Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The River of Shadows, The Night of the Swarm: An Update


Mind Flayer painted by gamefusionstudio.com
Writing is hard.

Let me rephrase that. Writing is a blood-sucking, mind-flaying, eyestalk-wiggling, barbed-mandibled monster of a job. It eats you. It eats your friends. It eats your family and your health and your sunny days and your bank account and it eats Deborah Harry’s guitar. 

Which is not to say that I don’t love it. Certainly I do. After all a good part of it can happen in your pajamas--although that could also be said, God help us, of the authorship of cruise-missile code. 

Right, so this is a lead-in to my apologia to everybody who used to follow this blog, and slowly drifted away when no letters from Alifros were forthcoming. Thanks to all of you who sent messages of support, good humour or inquiry. I think I answered everyone, but if I failed to, please forgive the oversight. I have an excuse, of course. I’ve been writing like a demon on Jolt. 

Specifically, I’ve been at work on Book IV, The Night of the Swarm. It’s going well, traumatic as it is for me to contemplate saying goodbye to Pazel, Thasha, Neeparvasi,  Felthrup, and all the rest. We’ve been together a long time, now, and they, at least, have grown wiser. But there’s no escape. The story does end, calamitously and totally, with Swarm.

At the same time a good part of the last year went into revisions of the first, furious draft of Book III, The River of Shadows. Although just a little slimmer than II, River was the most challenging novel yet. As those who’ve read Book II know well, the plight of the Chathrand’s crew is terribly dire at the end. So dire, in fact, that III became an exercise in rescuing at least some of them from hell--before daring them, almost literally, to go back.

The good news about III is that I’m thrilled with the final cut. The story is going places I barely dreamed of, back in the nineties (in my unibomber shack in Florida) when I jotted down those early notes. The whole of the book takes place in the previously unvisited southern hemisphere, and for the first time the story veers inland: some characters actually end up with mountains, rivers, and high plains between them and the sea. This change of pace brought all kinds of new energy to the writing process, and I hope to the story overall.


My old mentor John Casey likens writing to autohypnosis: you work hard to get yourself into that zone, and when you succeed you’re elsewhere, doing something mysterious and opaque. Then you snap out, and it’s over for the day. No use fussing. Revise a bit, or better still walk the dog. 

That’s a fair description of how I live. But spending a chunk of every day hypnotized, deeply absent, brings troubles aplenty. You may forget the laundry, or the appointment you made at 4:00 PM. Or the year, country, world you’re living in. And when you’re trying to write a book you can be utterly proud of--a book that matters to you personally, one that comes from a deeper part of yourself--the memory of that hypnotic state may follow you, clutching at you everywhere, like a wraith on your heels.

Or like (and this is my last gripe of the day) the noise from the factory across the river from our otherwise overwhelmingly awesome new house. The name of the business says it all: CHEMIPLASTICA. They make the compound for Melmac plastic dinnerware, the same stuff my grandmother served home fries on when I was small and pudgy. Now I lie awake, listening as CHEMIPLASTICA whines and howls and rumbles, and ask myself who in God’s green earth wants so much plastic dinnerware. Especially as the stuff from Grandma’s time is so frakking indestructible that it will doubtless be unearthed after doomsday and put to use once more.

Such are the fardels we bear, my friends.

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