Saturday 31 December 2011

I hear wings beating

The next time I'm writing a series, I'll write the whole thing before I publish a single book.

Granted, it's quite possibly terribly inefficient in terms of work. What if reception is so bad that you've just spent three years of your life writing a series that people are hating? And yep, overall reception has a huge impact on whether I'm writing the sequel, or feel like doing a prequel. Characters that are loved are more likely to come back on the stage for an encore. People hating the overall concept of a series can strangle the second part in its infancy. On the part of the author - total deniability: "It was meant as a standalone anyway."

Writing a series while parts are being published seems like a clever thing to do, then, until you do it in practice. (Hey, I'm still learning how to treat the Muse right - a writer's career seems largely a series of experiments on him/herself, trying to trial and error a way to stay alive and productive and more-or-less - but not too, that's dangerous, too - happy.)

When I started the Dark Soul series, I wrote "Dark Soul" for a gun kink anthology. Much like a lucky oil explorer getting the drill in just right, I then saw the earth split wide open. Geyser. Unstoppable. I'd hit 20-year old oil in my own soul. Holy shit, I hit THAT geological layer again, get the rig over here, NOW!

I wrote Dark Soul 1-3 in a happy daze, sucking on that general area and swallowing as fast as I could. Then, November happened, certain moderators of a certain Goodreads group stepped up their harrassment of trans* writers, "sniffing out" "fake men" and demanding that publisher police the contents of their writers' underwear or be threatened with boycotts, some bloggers ran around outing trans* people as having ovaries (gosh, the possession of ovaries now a crime or what? Personally, most trans* men would like to keep theirs in jars or wash them down the toilet, but they ARE kind of important for the body's hormone equilibrium).

Things thankfully died down (mostly, anyway, not that those mods ever learnt a thing or even apologized), but the important thing was, the geyser had died off. My "sure I can write this whole Dark Soul series, want the whole thing next month?" became pure boisterous posturing.

For weeks, I didn't even feel like a writer. Words were just scrawls on paper. I had moments (days) of intense loathing for pretty much the whole genre and everybody involved in it, including myself, then I slowly dragged myself out of that, realizing, deep down, that I'm not going to allow a few entitled assholes to ruin me as the writer, ruin my fun, or take my books out of the hands - and minds - of my readers.

In short, just because there are assholes and trolls on the internet, I don't have to suffer for them, or hurt those people who really want my stories. Of course, when I write, I'm emphatically NOT writing for the assholes and trolls out there, but I've also discarded the very petty idea of anti-dedicating my books ("This book is for readers, but not J., L. and JM, or A.S., who I hope burst spontaneously into flames when they read any sentence I've written" - ah, if words had such power!).

Although it admittedly would have been fun to watch how quickly and indignantly they'll deny having done "anything" to "deserve such vile treatment", while at the same time working very hard behind the scenes to damage me and my business, and that of my friends.

Honestly, regarding November I'm very nearly past caring, because my real battle - the one that almost nobody has any influence on whatsoever - is to finish a five-part series when trolls have stomped all over the well you'd been tapping. Why do I even bother?

I've spent what feels like two months staring at the screen, digging in my brain, using the sharpest tools I had to try and draw blood. Some writing is nothing less than digging through the
scar tissue of your soul and trying to get at a fresh artery. Some of us look inside like junkies trying to find one good vein. And if you can't find any on your arms, you can always go for the one in your balls or between your toes. We're talking THAT kind of writing.

I felt so bruised and so numb inside that I couldn't see the faint blue shimmer of a vein through my skin. And when the blade went in, I couldn't get deep enough to get even a spurt of blood. Anywhere. Obsessive writer that I am, I kept cutting away, kept digging, and probably made all my friends utterly miserable with my thinly-veiled self-loathing. A blocked writer is a pitiful creature, and he/she knows it.

I knew it would be two more parts, but I couldn't get them written. I analysed my own writing process from inception to final proofing stage to debug it, and I have some vague ideas what I can optimize now and in the future. All this under the pressure to have to deliver two novella-sized books of several stories that were nothing but a twinkle in the Muse's eye. My Muse, however, usually a hard-working and pretty reliable bastard, had fled the scene.

And then you're stuck in the middle of a series, much like a marathon runner who gets a foot blown off at kilometer 20. In front of what feels like thousands of people, most of whom haven't even heard the shot or noticed what's wrong. All they see is that "their" runner staggers and falls. A few go after the shooter, others stare or shout in horror. And while you stagger, all you can think of is to shout "I'm OK! I'm OK! Of course I'm finishing the race, no problem, I just, errr, stepped funny on a stone or something." It's not a pretty picture, because the reality is, you know something's badly wrong, and there's this myth floating around that writing is easy once you know how to do it, and we're all writing machines and reliably produce if given half an incentive, and surely the money is enough, right? We just sit down and do this thing. We're "professionals". Usain Bolt doesn't get a cramp. Muhammad Ali doesn't chicken out.

It's all nonsense. In the end, the battle is between you and the white page on the screen. If I can't find the hole in to the story, it's not happening. That's a block, and I haven't had a real one in ages, but this one was nasty. It was made nastier because of the loathing and disgust, the trolls, and a deep-seated insecurity whether anything would have changed after November.

The answer is, yes, everything has changed, and I'm still cataloguing the fall-out, good and bad. But the first area where I had to do damage control was in my own writing, and, specifically, Dark Soul and whether it would get completed.

You're getting all these funny ideas, too. Whether the pre-November parts will have the same tone. After that huge upheaval, will I write "differently"? How will people now read part 3, which was written well before any of that shit happened?

You manage to take the first steps in part 4 and keep thinking "is this what I would have written before the trolls ate my Muse?" There's a certain taint, a certain fear and tentativeness in the writing that is maybe totally in my imagination. None of my own struggles HAVE TO have made it on the page. Writers can happily suffer in real life and nothing of it makes it on the page. I think. I hope.

And while the trolls haven't destroyed my writing, I do wonder if they twisted it. If I let them down inside me too deep and they did shit in there than I can't even fathom. Or whether I'm clenching up, in a protective reflex, in expectation of their next move. Whether I write in a certain way to justify myself, and how my Muse works, and what my themes are, and how I tackle them.

And then you write more, and the tentativeness slowly falls away. You're a swimmer who has broken out of the pollution of the coastal waters. No plants that wrap themselves around your ankles. The sea out there looks like you remember it - cold and powerful and dark and threatening, and now your muscles are warm and you can SWIM again, for all you're worth. There's no help out here, but veteran that you are, you don't NEED anybody's help. You pull, push, stroke, the machine remembers how to do it, and all the creaky, painful, self-conscious shit, the stuff about expectations, good and bad, all falls away. It's done. None of that matters.

And suddenly you have 15 thousand words, and they might be different from the 15k words you'd have written before it all happened, but, never mind, those 15k are still pretty good words, there's no taint, no rage that doesn't belong. The trolls haven't actually reached THAT deep. They are beach trolls, but once you're deep and far enough in the water, they look like spoiled, bored children hitting each other with plastic sand spades.

In the last four or five days, I've written more than 15k words. Dark Soul 4 is almost finished, and once I've finalized the last scene, I'm going to swim further and bring back Dark Soul 5. I'd say they should both be done in January.


  1. People will love your writing, or hate your writing, regardless. If you feel there are stories fitting as series, you should do that, write it all out, and try not to think so much as to 'what will people think'. I know it can't be avoided, but.. as someone who'll read even 200 pages description of the importance of a tie, when you've written it, I'll want to read it and will at least like it massively, if not completely love it, I wish you'll write *anything* you want, for *you*.

    And even though I understand, or at least think I understand, what writing a series while parts are being published feels like, how the reviews and reactions of previous parts while you're working on a new one can help you work.. As a reader I do like the 'not letting any parts out before it's complete'-idea. I've read so many series-starters, just to realize that the next, or third etc. part will not come out. I've waited for years for second parts of cliff-hanger books, and it's clear those will not be written after all. It's not a nice feeling to realize the characters you fell for will not get their deserved ending.

    And now that I'm done with my attempt to sound smart and failed, I shall inform you that I got a 'I like to hug Aleks'-disease, and I own super glue. Be aware.

  2. I always knew you would do it, in your time. I can't wait to read what you've gotten Stefano and Silvio into. I venture a guess to say it'll be the best you've ever done. The trolls are just that and they don't warrant a second thought. Too sad they stayed your muse's wings for a time. They aren't worthy enough to polish your shoes, my friend.