Almost two years ago, I announced that the next novel I was going to write was a superhero tale called Big Ape. Then, life threw a couple of plot twists at me. First, Solaris agreed to revert the rights back to my Dragon Apocalypse books. I’d been holding off on writing the fourth book in that series until that came about, since if the fourth book boosted sales of the first three books, it might have delayed the reversion. Second, I was named Piedmont Laureate for 2015, and spent a year teaching and talking about writing, but not actually producing much work. When my laureate duties came an end, I plunged into the fourth Dragon Apocalypse novel, Cinder, finally getting it into print in mid-May. Then, finally, I started working on Big Ape.
Alas, I did something I frequently advise other writers not to do: I wrote three chapters, then went back and started the novel all over again. My plan had been to produce a parallel novel to Cut Up Girl. Harry (Big Ape) and Vic (Cut Up Girl) have lives that are intertwined by multiple big events, and I thought it would be interesting to see these events from two different perspectives.
Unfortunately, once I actually started writing, this approach just got bogged down with repeated details. I don’t think meshing the two plots together would have been a big deal, but I found myself reintroducing the same members of the supporting cast. Supporting characters are trickier to write than you might imagine, since you often have to capture their entire personality and backstories in just a few telling details. If I tried to give Vic and Harry wildly different perspectives on some of these characters, the inconsistencies made the characters impossible to pin down. If I didn’t change the personality traits and details, though, I felt like I was being redundant.
By the third chapter, I felt like I was just repeating myself. And a lot of the back story I was writing about Harry’s early years seemed like stuff that I could easily integrate into the Cut Up Girl novel. So, I ditched those three chapters and went back and started writing from Big Ape’s perspective one minute after the end of the events of Cut Up Girl, focusing on his life moving forward.
So far, this draft feels right. It’s got a lot of energy and momentum, and I’m getting to introduce brand new supporting characters instead of rehashing old ones. Rose Rifle from the first book turned out to have a vigilante son who calls himself Reverend Rifle, and the Rev is a lot of fun to write, a sort of mashup between Batman, the Lone Ranger, and an evangelical preacher. I’ve also discovered that when Harry first joined the Lawful Legion, he was part of a teen brigade that included two girls, Smash Lass and Elsa Where, and the dynamics between the three of them are flowing out really easily. The most difficult character so far has been Screaming Jenny, who has the power to curse at people until they catch fire. I’ve got a good story arc planned for her, but so far she’s just not talking to me. I keep even forgetting she’s in the room when I’m writing scenes with the other characters. Not good, since her arc really creates a lot of drama around the middle of the book.
Oh well. That’s why you write first drafts.
I’m now up to chapter 8, with 38,509 words down on paper. This likely means I’m about 1/3 of the way through. I’d hoped to get the first draft done before the end of August, but that’s going to require a much faster pace than I’ve so far managed. Still, that’s the goal.
Welcome to my worlds!
I'm James Maxey, author of fantasy and science fiction. My novels include the science fantasy Bitterwood Saga (4 books) the Dragon Apocalypse Saga (4 books), numerous superhero novels including Nobody Gets the Girl and the Lawless series, the steampunk Oz sequel Bad Wizard, and my short story collections, There is No Wheel and Jagged Gate. This website is focused exclusively on writing. At my second blog, Jawbone of an Ass, I ramble through any random topic that springs to mind, occasionally touching on religion and politics and other subjects polite people are sensible enough not to discuss in public. If you'd like to get monthly updates on new releases, as well as preview chapters and free short stories, join my newsletter!
Monday, July 18, 2016
It's been a while since I've talked about my reading. I'm continuing to concentrate on classic literature, driven in part by my participation the "First Monday Classics" book club at the Orange County Library. I'm sure I'm going to forget something, but since last fall I've read:
Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe. A seriously brilliant book. It's well written in a simple, straightforward style that rises to poetry when needed. It does a masterful job of showing you the world through the prism of a different time and culture. Achebe doesn't romanticize pre-colonial Africa. We see the ugly side of the culture as well as the high points. But you can't help but come away from the book seeing the world with new eyes.
A Child's Christmas in Wales by Dylan Thomas. I have to admit, I thought this was pretty terrible. No plot, no characters of any depth, just lyrical sentimentality.
If on a Winter's Night a Traveler by Italo Calvino. A novel about reading a novel. The protagonist keeps getting interrupted after reading an opening chapter, discovering his book is misprinted, has the wrong cover, is the wrong translation, etc., so that every other chapter is the beginning of a new book. Lots of musing on the power of writing and the power of reading, but ultimately the book left me cold. Once you realized that none of the chapters of the fake books were ever going to go anywhere, they turned into a pointless slog.
Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston. Beautiful writing and very deep exploration of characters. The dialect was kind of hard to work through, but once you caught the rhythm the back and forth between the supporting characters was very funny and really brought the book to life.
Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad. Meh. I mean, it's not terrible, and thankfully it's not long. But Kurtz is built up throughout the book as a great and interesting man, but when he finally appears he barely says anything then dies of illness. It's a lot of build up for a somewhat weak payoff.
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson. I added this one to the clubs reading list because it's one of my all-time favorite novels. I've lost track of how many times I've read this book, but every time I always hit lines that make me laugh. Despite all the talk about frying his mind with drugs and booze, the actual writing in this novel is crisp and focused. The book isn't without flaws, of course. There's a certain amount of low-brow, gross out comedy, and most of the characters are one-note clichés. Except for a maid and a waitress, women are strangely absent from the book. Still, a damn funny novel.
The Bridge on the Drina by Ivo Andric. The opening chapters are pretty harrowing as we see in graphic detail the gruesome practices used to force the laborers to build the bridge. Then we start skipping through the centuries, getting a pretty broad mix of history and characters. As a history lesson, it's informative, but as a novel it lacks any sense of immediacy. You can go many dozen pages at a time before stumbling onto an actual scene with dialogue.
The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton. This book was all kinds of terrible. In fairness, it has moments of wit and the author has a great talent for bringing a setting to life. I even thought she had a good ear for dialogue. But I couldn't relate to the characters even a tiny bit. The book is about how shackled the characters are by the society they live in, but, the characters are all rich enough that they could live pretty much any life they wished if they'd just show a little backbone.
Kon-Tiki by Thor Heyerdal. This wasn't part of my book club reading list, and I'm hesitant to recommend it to the group since our focus is on novels and this is non-fiction. I'd read this book as a teenager and had fond memories of it, so I grabbed a used copy at a book store and decided to reread it during a week at the beach. It was even better than I remembered, a grand adventure pitting men against the elements. The great strength of the book is the crazy confidence of the author, who is convinced that Polynesia was settled not from Asia, but by ancient Peruvians crossing the ocean in rafts. When the scientific world assures him that a raft can't cross the ocean, he decides to prove them wrong by building his own primitive raft and setting sail. Along the way, we see the ocean in a way that few people ever get to see it, a living, ever-shifting waterscape populated by strange inhabitants. Completely engrossing.