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Wednesday, June 22, 2022

Sextus Opus

It’s getting close now.

In fact, it’s so close that it might even be time to announce the title. But I won’t just yet. Once again I’ve settled on a moniker that comes up easily in web searches if people are actually searching for the title, but it has the problem that most people aren’t going to be sure how to pronounce it. As with Searching for Cunégonde up until that book’s publication, I still haven’t abandoned the idea of a better, more marketable, more searchable title. But I have a feeling this is its title. For one thing, I’m kind of attached to it. If the late J.R.R. Tolkien was able to sell a whole bunch of copies of something called The Silmarillion, then maybe I can sell a few copies of my book with Gaelic words in the title.

At this point I’m just waiting for a wee bit more feedback and, mainly, a block of time to do one final pass to find any remaining typos or problems staring at me right there in plain sight. Then begins the pre-press gauntlet where I try to remember all the things I did the previous time I went through it—now coming up on two years ago now—plus deal with all the things that will be different because things change over time. I love that part. If the truth be told, that’s the sort of stuff I’m built for.

Editing, copy-editing, formatting, pre-press prep and publishing are all basically about problem solving. At least in the way I personally view and approach those tasks. You’re taking something that’s been written and removing (ideally all) the flaws and delivering it to the audience. Generally, those are things that can be done right—or not. That’s my comfort zone.

I suppose you can view the writing task the same way: you’ve either done it right—or not. But the rightness of any piece of writing is ultimately subjective, isn’t it? When it comes to the creative process, rightness is in the eye of the beholder. And that’s kind of scary for someone like me whose mostly worked (for pay anyway) in areas where things are done right—or not.

Okay, now I’ve made it sound like I am, in my work life at least, one of those robotic personalities with no imagination. That’s not true. Hopefully, my five books to date demonstrate some level of imagination and penchant for story spinning. But, as I’ve previously confessed on my movie blog, I am not by nature a particularly visual person. My skill gifts were always more in abstract concepts. Having a brain that is attuned to images is useful for, say, filmmakers—and novelists.

The good news is that few if any of us is completely one kind of person or another. Our weaknesses can strengthened. We can learn and can train ourselves to do what we need or want to do.

Okay, that was a pretty major digression. Mainly, my message was going to be that the sixth book and sequel to The Curse of Septimus Bridge is getting very close now. The idea was to get you all excited about it, but now I’ve probably succeeded in putting you off. Did I mention that one of my other skill blind spots was marketing and self-promotion?

Anyway, keep watching this space for more teasers and, ultimately, announcements. I’m very excited about this new book and can’t wait to tell you more about it.

Saturday, April 9, 2022

Fantasy Come True

Yes, I finally got back to work on the new (and sixth) book. I had an extra break from writing because, for Christmas and my birthday, my daughter and wife surprised me with a full pass to the Dublin International Film Festival, which was held in March. So, for a few weeks my film blog got a more attention than my novel. I’m not complaining. Just explaining.

Once I finished writing about the 15 feature films and 49 short films I saw—and recovered from pulling an all-nighter to watch the Oscars and write about those—I threw myself back into the book. This week was something of a milestone in that I now have the manuscript in a form where I am largely happy with the story and am not completely embarrassed to have other people look at it. Much work still remains—the copy editing, fixing, polishing, improving—but this juncture gives me a chance to take another pause from novel-writing and do what I really like to be doing: blogging about novel-writing.

While it may look like I’m just bad at time management, it was actually deliberate this time to take a longer break between finishing the initial rough draft (way back in late September) and beginning the second pass a couple of months ago. The truth is that I kind of envy people who read my books. That confession isn’t intended to be as self-congratulatory as it may sound. What I mean is that my main motivation in writing is to create books that I myself would enjoy reading. The irony is that I am the one person in the world who is not surprised by anything I read in my own books. It seems that it would be helpful in the editing and rewriting to be able to peruse the manuscript with the eyes of a virgin reader. Leaving more time than usual between one pass and another was my attempt to roughly approximate that experience.

Did it work? Kind of. A little. Obviously, when I’ve put so much thought and time into the conception and initial writing of the story, it’s not realistic to think that I’ll easily forget much of what my brain was at. To be real, no plot twist or surprise reveal is going to catch me off guard. This is especially true in the case of the very first chapter and the very last chapter. Those invariably get the most attention because it’s only natural that I want the book to make a good first impression and to leave a good final impression.

Surprisingly, though, there were portions in between those two chapters that did manage to surprise me. In its current manuscript form, the book consists of 31 chapters and runs on for 364 pages. (It will inevitably be shorter in print form.) That’s a lot of narrative and description and text to keep track of. So, yes, in the reading sometimes I was caught by surprise when a certain thing happened at a certain point. A few times I found myself laughing at the comic relief. And something else kind of wonderful happened a couple of times. At two different points I unexpectedly got a bit emotional. I don’t say that to pat myself on the back. After all, as I’ve said, I’m my own target audience. But it was nice to find myself reacting the way I hope other readers might.

The sequel to The Curse of Septimus Bridge has turned out to be a rather complicated story. This novel has more significant characters than I have ever crammed into a book before, as well as more plot developments. Actually, I don’t know if that’s really true since I haven’t bothered to try to formally quantify characters and plot events in this book to compare to say, Searching for Cunégonde, but it sure feels like this one has more of both things.

If you read and enjoyed the first book, then I think you’ll like this one too. On one hand, you could say it’s more of the same, and on the other hand, it’s a lot more than more of the same. I’ve indulged most of my favorite tropes of fantasy literature, comic books and twisty, complicated TV shows. At heart, though, like its predecessor, it’s first and foremost a love story.

The obvious question posed by the book—and one I myself cannot answer reliably, no matter how much amnesia I try to artificially induce in myself—is this one: does the book stand on its own or is it absolutely necessary to have read Septimus Bridge first? Personally, I tend to think Septimus was confusing enough and didn’t have a previous installment to help explain things, so maybe new readers will get through the confusion the way readers of the previous tome did.

Of course, the win-win solution to this conundrum is just to read The Curse of Septimus Bridge and then to read its sequel. In fact, according to a couple of comments I’ve already heard, you might want to read the two books with little or not interruption in between.