The Retrieval Artist

Retrieval Artist Update #2

I’ve finished the first draft of the second book in my completion of the Anniversary Day Saga. This book is tentatively titled The Peyti Crisis.

Now, for those of you who are wondering what the heck I’m talking about, here’s the short version: I wrote Anniversary Day, expecting to finish the entire saga in one volume. Then I figured Blowback would finish it, but of course, it didn’t. I started a story to explain something to myself called A Murder of Clones, which takes place off-Moon, and realized I had to publish that next. For reasons I went into in this post, I felt that readers would be disappointed with A Murder of Clones if they had to wait a year to finish the entire saga.

In the past month, Dean read A Murder of Clones, and agrees with me: He thinks the book is necessary and good for the saga, but would disappoint readers if I weren’t following my plan.

My plan? To finish the entire saga before releasing the last few books.

I finally decided to start blogging about this in November, and this is my second post. I kept expecting to finish the second book (really the fourth book in the saga) sooner, but the holidays and my damn brain interfered. I had to write several side chapters (for future books) and delete a subplot to get the book finished.

So…The Peyti Crisis. Done for now. I say for now, because I’m not sure if I’ll need to go back and add or delete something because of what I will write in the upcoming books. And, true to form, my predictions were a bit off.

One more book—now untitled—and then Resolution, or whatever it’s called.

I’ll be honest, Allyson Longueira, the publisher at WMG Publishing put five books on the publishing schedule, because she believes I’ll go the entire distance. It looks like—if I can get this thing finished—A Murder of Clones will appear in December 2014, The Peyti Crisis in February of 2015, the book I’m working on now in April of 2015, and the final book of the saga (I hope) in June of 2015.

I’m 200,000 words into this last part (or, if you’d like, more than 400,000 words into the Anniversary Day saga, if you’re counting the books already published). I know the basic shape of the story. I know whodunnit and what the consequences are. I know who’ll live and who’ll die. I know how the universe will change.

I just have to get it all on the page.

I’m doing that as fast as I can. I’ll be honest: I’m now taking one day per week for short stories and another for my blog (minimum) because Dean and I realized that I go crazy when I’m working on one thing for more than four months. (We learned this the hard way in the last half of 2013. [sigh] And I shall not elucidate this point further. Use your imaginations.)

The realization actually sped up the production on the Retrieval Artist, mostly because it stopped me from throwing off unnecessary short stories that were really chapters in disguise (future chapters—for future books, not in the saga. Don’t worry; you’ll see those eventually). So, I’m spending fewer hours on the saga per week, and writing more. Go figure.

On Thursday, Allyson and I were finishing up some scheduling of my projects at WMG. She has a series of white boards in her office with WMG’s front list projects outlined by month, in color. As she added the Anniversary Day saga, I got very quiet.

She said, “Freaked you out, didn’t it?”

She was right: it did. But not for the reason she thought.  She thought I was freaked because of the work I had to do. I know the amount of work I have to do. I freaked out because until that moment, I hadn’t realized just how massive and unusual this project is.

I couldn’t do this ten years ago. No New York publisher would have agreed to a project this large. I tried to do something similar with the Fey for my British publisher. (My British publisher initially commissioned the books.) My British publisher contracted as far out as they could—five books—but then my editor left, the new editor left, the publisher left, and finally the founder of the company left. The project got abandoned. (The project also got abandoned in France, and they had bought all of five  books, divided them in half, published 1-8 and then decided they weren’t publishing fantasy any more, so they decided not to publish 9-10, even though the books were selling well!)

The speed of publication makes a difference here too. Before the last few years, no sf/f publisher would publish more than two books per year from a writer—and maybe not even that many. Now, they’re willing to consider as many as three (I have a friend trying to maintain that pace right now, and he’s a slow writer). We’re talking four to five full-length books in five to seven months.

I mentioned in my first blog on this that there would be a lot of sausage-making in these posts. I don’t write in order (I wish I did) and characters tend to surprise me at times. So, I often have to work out how they got from point A to point YY. Some of that stays in my office forever, and some of it either becomes other projects or goes into the book.

In other words,  I don’t just write a book, I assemble it from pieces. On my very first novel, I printed out the chapters, then spread them on the floor of my office like playing cards, and put them in piles until they made sense. I can mostly do that on the computer now, with my own weird version of a spreadsheet, but it’s the same process.

A friend of mine calls that “writing into the dark” and whoa, boy, is she right. Sometimes I shed a light on a part of that darkness, see a maze, and slam the door closed. Sometimes I shed a light, and realize the room was bigger than I thought. And sometimes I shed the light, and realize what I thought was a room was really just an unimportant shadow. But I need to go in deep enough to turn on the light in the first place.

I know, I know, it makes little sense, except when you’re in the middle of it. Suffice to say, I’ve written about 300,000 words so far, of which I estimate 250,000 are useable. 200,000 are in order and pretty much ready to go (unless something really catches me by surprise). I hope that, by the next report in a month or so, there will be another 100,000 and another finished book.

I had been so deep in the project that I hadn’t realized its scope. I knew the story was huge, but I hadn’t realized how that story would look on a publishing schedule. I’m a bit stunned. But seeing it has both inspired me and made me respect the project more than I had. Before, I saw the project as if it were a runaway train. Now I realize it’s a train all right, but it’s under control. I just need to get it to the station.

And that’s what I’m doing. I’m moving forward. And there will be books. They’re actually on a publishing schedule now. Which means my butt needs to stay in this chair for the next few months, as I get closer to the end.