From the ol’ Action Force mailbag:
Ok, got an interesting question. I asked you recently about Duke and Earl (of Gil’s All Fright Diner). I also noticed, on Facebook, someone else did, too. I’m suspecting it’s a question you get a lot and one you’re getting maybe a little irritated answering. That said, I’m curious about what made you lose interest in these characters?
Great question, and the answer is complicated enough that I thought I’d answer it here publicly.
First of all, I don’t find the question irritating. It’s never insulting to be asked this sort of thing because it means I did a good job. Writing is a lonely profession without a lot of direct feedback, so stuff like this is always flattering and rewarding.
Gil’s All Fright Diner was my first published novel. It was not, however, my first novel. Nor my second. Between being an aspiring novelist to becoming a professional one, I’d written somewhere between 12 or 13 novels (who counts?) and dozens upon dozens of pieces of novels that were never to come to fruition. And Gil’s took a while to find a publisher, so I’d written a few novels between then and when it did finally see publication.
There are a lot of complex reasons why I’ve tended to stay away from sequels and series for the bulk of my career. The first was purely practical. I wanted to have enough material to pitch to a potential publisher, and my logic was that if I wrote 13 novels in one series that this could be just as much a liability as an asset. I imagined myself pitching to a publisher, hearing them say, “We love your writing, but we’re not crazy about this setting. What else do you have?”
“Thirteen more novels of that same setting” would probably not be the best answer.
Now, I don’t know how I might have proceeded if Gil’s had found a publisher right away and while starting my next novel, I considered there might be a demand for a sequel. That didn’t happen. Also, publisher never placed any pressure on me to write one. When I offered them In the Company of Ogres and A Nameless Witch, Tor seemed happy to have them. And I only had half of The Automatic Detective written when they bought that. By then, I’d moved on to other worlds and projects, and Gil’s, while successful, had cooled.
Yet that’s really only half the story because I realized by talking to many aspiring writers that many, perhaps even the majority, tend to find series appealing. I’ve met so many writers who have plans for a series, even before selling their first book. And I don’t discourage them because whatever inspires you is cool with me.
But I honestly don’t get it.
It was only years later that I fully understood how much I loved creating new worlds and characters and exploring new ideas that these could provide me. I’m not going to try and sell anyone that I’m a more creative writer. Writing is hard. Writing well is always a creative endeavor, and I’m not saying writing a series is easier or harder. It’s just different.
For me, starting from scratch is always invigorating. Not knowing anything about an idea as I begin is so energizing. Maybe it’s because a series, by its nature, is going to place constraints on what you can do. There are certain rules and expectations from a pre-established universe. Gil’s is an adventure/horror themed setting, and while that’s a great playground, it does stop certain ideas cold.
I like new ideas.
I’m proud of my eclectic body of work. There’s a certain stylistic similarity between all of my books. How could there not be? But there’s also a bunch of great themes and ideas and characters that would have trouble coexisting in the same universe. Nessy the practical housekeeping kobold (Too Many Curses) would have trouble standing beside world-conqueror Emperor Mollusk (Emperor Mollusk vs. the Sinister Brain). Cosmic Horror (Chasing the Moon) doesn’t belong in the same world as The Hero’s Journey (Helen & Troy’s Epic Road Quest). Thematically, they don’t exactly share the same space.
I think it’s made me a better writer by the way. Everyone’s on their own path, but this is the right path for me. If there’s anything that can distinguish me from the countless other accomplished writers out there, it’s that I’m willing to go to a lot of weird places if I think they’re worth exploring.
Now that I’m finishing up the Constance Verity Trilogy, I see the appeal of series. It does allow me to explore characters in more depth, and I’m glad I did it. But I’ll admit that, barring something unexpected, I can’t wait to go exploring again.
I’m thinking kaiju novel, but that’s just a thought right now.
The original question though is “What made me lose interest?”
That’s the wrong wording. It assumes that I don’t like Duke and Earl, Cathy and Napoleon, Loretta and Sheriff Kopp. That’s not true. In fact, I’ve written numerous pieces of short fiction exploring these characters and the spooky small town of Rockwood. They used to be on this very site before we needed to reconfigure things. But they’ll be back. I promise.
The thing about writing is that, while I do love these characters, I love creating stuff that engages and interests me. I’m convinced that the best way to deliver stories worth reading is for me to care about them, and while I love all the stuff I’ve written before, I also love the stuff I’ve yet to write. And if you love more than one story I’ve written, then maybe you can see what I’m getting at. Because if I’d only stuck with one setting, all those novels wouldn’t exist.
Sure, I love Duke and Earl. But I also love Mack Megaton and Troy and Constance Verity, and they only exist because my interest in revisiting one setting was slightly edged out by my desire to create new worlds and characters.
I hope that answers the question.
Have a question you’d like me to answer, perhaps on this very site for all the world to read? You can always reach me at Hipstercthulhu@hotmail.com.
Thanks for reading. Always.
Fighting the good fight, Writing the good write,