Monday, October 1, 2012

What Lives in My Trunk

Earlier this week, I was scheduled to do a live audio-interview on Bookspark.  As with most tech, Murphy's Law prevailed; no one could sign into the site; and the evening looked like a bust. I just happened to be moaning on my publisher's FB page about this because she and a bunch of other folks had wanted to virtually attend. Long story short, she called; we moaned together; then I suggested we just move the event to Twitter and do a live chat there.  Smart move: we had a great discussion (we even "trended," which, I gather, is a good thing), got tons of participation and fabulous questions, and went for over an hour before I had to beg off and break the fast, or fall on my nose.

One question from that which stuck with me revolved around whether or not I'd ever run into a story I just couldn't write or tell.  My response at the time wasn't disingenuous; I said that I kept working until I got it right--and that is true.  I tend to be a drudge.  OTOH, I went to medical school, so that figures.  We were all drudges.  

But when I took a step back and thought about it, I realized that, of course, there are tons of stories I've been unable to tell.  Either they die in outline form (the most frequent and least painful way, frankly, because you realize halfway through that what you thought was a great idea wasn't), fail to find an editor, or languish in the trunk every storyteller has in that dark closet because you know there's something wrong . . . but you just don't know what.  

Only later, when you've either gotten distance or better at the craft--and, frequently both--do you realize why the story defeated you.  Some you're able to redraft (never try to "fix" a story that didn't work; by definition, that's one dog that just won't hunt), as I did with ASHES.  From others, I've lifted ideas and scenes to use in other stories,  not verbatim because, again, the setups themselves didn't work.  

An example: there was one basic, overarching setup for a TREK novel that I actually carried two-thirds of the way through (an origin story about the Borg) before deciding that no one would ever actually LET me write a TREK novel.  Years later, when I'd done just that (and many stories and novellas in the universe), I dredged up my original idea because, you know, I just really liked it.  That idea was stuck in my craw; it was a cautionary, sweeping kind of story I felt compelled to write.  So I redrafted the entire thing to the parameters of a TREK spin-off series I was writing for (SCE) and finally got to see my book become reality as a two-parter, WOUNDS, and the thing was popular to boot (enough that I earned out and made royalties . . . a big deal).

The story fit much better into that universe.  Not to be immodest or anything, but whenever you do an "origin" story for a universe, it's  a risky proposition.  You're mucking with a basic tenet of that universe, something editors tend to be protective of and with good reason.   I even hedged at the end of my book because I didn't want to run afoul of the canon.  But I was blessed with an editor willing to take those risks, and the story was so successful--so interesting--that he and I planned another spin-off series based on those characters (a kind of TREK CSI).  Unfortunately, the SCE series was cancelled, and so that went nowhere.  Which sucked because my poor characters were left in limbo.  One of the dangers of work-for-hire: if a series is cancelled, it's like all your great ideas--your babies--get orphaned.  Sometimes you can scrub off the serial numbers.  Many times, you can't. Again, better just to redraft.  With these characters, I couldn't, so now I'll NEVER know what happens next. 

OTOH, that book was an example of an idea whose time finally came.  Before then, I hadn't grown into my writing chops enough to pull it off.  I was trying to tell the wrong story at the wrong time.  

So, have stories defeated me?  Oh, yeah.  Have I lived through the trauma to tackle them another day?  Yes, and frequently, I'm able to see why they got the upper-hand to begin with.  There are tons of novelists who brush off trunk novels--things they either were unable to sell or couldn't quite pull off--spruce 'em up, bring 'em out.  Some writers even tell you when they haven't changed much and, sometimes, it shows.  I guess my feeling, and I can only speak for my own stuff . . . Ils, honey, if it sucked the first time through, it'll suck now.  You really want your name on stuff that sucks?  

For me, what lives in my trunk: my failures, either in execution, conception, or both.  But you really can learn from your mistakes.  Sometimes, you even get a do-over.

And now for something completely different:

Calling all film makers! Egmont USA is hosting a SHADOWS: Book Two of the Ashes Trilogy book trailer contest. To enter simply read SHADOWS and then submit your awesome book trailer to Entries should be 30-45 seconds in length and should not exceed 3MB. We'll be accepting entries from now until Halloween!

The winner will receive a customized ASHES pack and signed copies of both ASHES and SHADOWS.

Now get filming!

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