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I've been working seriously on five different novels lately -- Ishta's Companion (an Ethshar novel that's been in the works under various titles for more than twenty years ago), The Innkeeper's Daughter (a fantasy with romantic elements I started on a whim last year), On A Field Sable (third in the Bound Lands series, after A Young Man Without Magic and Above His Proper Station), Stone Unturned (a big complicated Ethshar story), and Graveyard Girl (a young adult novel about a girl with a specialized psychic power). That's not counting assorted revisions, proofs, editing, etc. People have asked me how I can do that, work on five at once -- how can I keep them all straight? Why don't I focus on one?

The answer is, I don't know how I do it, or even really why. I learned to work on two novels at once back in the late 1980s, so if I hit a slow patch on one I could switch to the other for awhile and refresh myself; I did that fairly often, though not all the time. Typically one would be Ethshar, and one would be something else. I once tried working on three simultaneously, and back then it didn't work, I'd lose track of things and get confused -- so why is it working now? I dunno. Practice, maybe. I know that not only am I now able to juggle five, I could actually handle more -- I deliberately cut the number down to five awhile back because I was working on so many at once that none of them was making much headway. I counted eighteen at one point that were nominally active works in progress, though I wasn't actually getting much of anywhere on several of them.

How can I do that? No idea. It just happens. Sometimes when I switch from one to the next I need to re-read a little to remind myself where I was, but the voice and storyline are all there in my head, ready to go.

Why am I doing it? Well, mostly, I think, because I don't have a reliable major market at present. For most of my thirty-five years of writing novels professionally, I've had books under contract to a publisher, so I worked on those. When I didn't actually have a contract, I still knew more or less what the market wanted. After Tor cut me loose by rejecting On A Field Sable, though, I didn't know what would or wouldn't sell, so I've been trying lots of different things, and so far most of them haven't worked. No major publisher was interested in One-Eyed Jack or Vika's Avenger. Tom Derringer and the Aluminum Airship is still out there, but the prospects don't look good. My agent had ideas about what he could sell for me, but they mostly didn't mesh with what I wanted to write. (Graveyard Girl is the exception, but I've been working on that for three years now and it still isn't finished because I ran into plot problems and it's hard for a guy in his fifties to write from the point of view of a contemporary fifteen-year-old girl, especially when the story's all about coming to terms with death.)

So I've been jumping around, looking for something that would reconnect with the market. Why I haven't focused on one project at a time I couldn't really tell you.

At this point, I'd really like to get some of these done, and off the list -- partly so I can get back to others I put aside when I cut the list from eighteen to five. I'd like to work on The Dragon's Price, for example, or Earthright, but am resisting until I finish one of the five.
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I have an unpublished novel, Vika's Avenger, sitting around unsold. It's a science-fantasy story with detective elements and a revenge motive. Two different editors have been interested in buying it, but were overruled by higher-ups who couldn't figure out how to market it; a third editor turned it down but had some useful comments about it. While it may have other failings, the largest problem seems to be that it doesn't fit any current known market niches.

I thought about self-publishing it, but my track record there is less than stellar. I thought about sending it to a smaller publisher, such as Wildside. I thought about serializing it online, as I've done with recent Ethshar novels. I haven't ruled any of these out, but none of these options has me wildly enthused.

And I've also thought about trying to launch it on Kickstarter.

If I do that, I'll have some interesting options. For one thing, if it makes the basic amount I set (which would probably be $10,000), I could then set stretch goals that would include such things as commissioning a David Mattingly cover painting. I'd probably rewrite it -- some of the creative choices I made when writing it were based on my perception of the market at the time, and obviously didn't help sell it, and that third editor's comments, along with some other events, have me thinking of ways it could be improved.

But if it doesn't make the nut, that could be embarrassing. Not to mention that running the Kickstarter and then publishing the book would be a significant amount of work. And that $10,000 would need to cover producing and distributing the various incentives, so my net proceeds wouldn't be all that much.

So I'm waffling. Do I try to Kickstart it, or not?
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I was trying to get started on something productive Sunday without much success. I did some minor revisions to start the second draft of The Sorcerer's Widow, but then got distracted by the Nationals/Marlins game. After the game (the ninth inning was a little too exciting) I didn't feel like going back to that, so I went to look at where I was on Mirrors and Shadows, the first volume of the planned Third Mage series, and was immediately stopped dead by the fact that there are two different versions of the first chapter.

What happened there was that I started writing it, then put it aside, then came back and didn't find the one I'd been working on and instead turned up a file that was only the very beginning, and decided I must not have written as much as I thought, so I started from that.

Except then I found the other one.

So now I had six pages of one version, and ten pages of another, and there's only one sentence that's the same in both of them, as even though I started with the same two paragraphs, I rewrote everything else in those paragraphs.

The story is pretty much the same, and moves at roughly the same pace, and the two major characters are the same people, but the details are very different. (And one version went a few pages farther than the other -- it goes two pages into Chapter Two, where the shorter didn't quite finish Chapter one.)

Neither one is clearly superior, so I didn't know which one I should work on.

I asked Julie to read them both, and I thought she'd probably be as stumped as I was, but no, she had a clear favorite -- she liked the older, longer one. So that's what I'll use. But I'll probably merge some of the other one into it, combining the best of both.
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As some of you may have noticed, right now YA ("Young Adult") science fiction and fantasy are selling huge numbers, while adult SF and fantasy are not. It has been pointed out to me by various people (including my agent) that this isn't because of some huge demographic bulge of teenage readers, but because in recent years adult readers have been buying YA books for their own entertainment, in preference to the books nominally aimed at them.


Apparently, it's because YA novels have likeable protagonists and straightforward plots. Also, they aren't all sweetness and light, by any means, but they tend to be fairly positive in outlook.

In short, if what you're after is escapist entertainment, you're more likely to find it in a YA novel than in the latest adult release.

I'm cool with that.

And it occurs to me that this reflects the latest front in a war that's been going on intermittently in the SF/fantasy field since at least 1939, and arguably longer -- the battle between those who want science fiction to be respectable literature, and those who don't give a damn about that, but they want it to be fun.

This conflict was presented most openly in the 1960s and '70s, when the two sides were labeled the New Wave and the Old Wave -- said labels being created, obviously, by the New Wave advocates. The New Wave folks dismissed traditional science fiction as simplistic, poorly-written adventure stories, and wanted to bring on a Golden Age of brilliant writing and literary experimentation in SF.

It goes back further, though. John W. Campbell became a revered icon in the SF field by insisting that his writers actually be able to write competently, and that their science have some basis in reality -- in short, he was taking the "respectable literature" side and setting Astounding up in opposition to the pure escapist pulps like Planet Stories.

Some people argue that Campbell's big innovation wasn't better writing, just better science. These people should go look at back issues of Startling Stories, and remember that Campbell was perfectly happy to edit the pure fantasy of Unknown, so long as the writing was decent and the stories made sense.

Anyway, Campbell won out over the trashy pulps, and the New Wave more or less won out over the Old Wave -- but I think the rise of YA now is a counter-revolutionary movement by readers. They want stories they can enjoy without too much effort. They want to experience the escapist pleasures they found when they first discovered SF and fantasy as teenagers -- so they're buying books aimed at teenagers.

It's a theory, anyway.


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May 2017

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