I’m really proud of the fact that BREACH ZONE isn’t chronolinear. I’ve tried hard to grow with each novel, to ensure that I do something very different each time I venture out into the marketplace. I mentioned earlier that I took a page from Mark Lawrence‘s book and made BREACH ZONE a double-helix of two separate stories, each 6 years apart, climaxing together at the conclusion of the book.
I hope I pulled it off.
But when I first floated the idea to my agent, he didn’t like it very much. Now, keep in mind, this isn’t any ordinary agent. This man is an undisputed kingmaker in the field, shepherding such titans as Charlaine Harris, Brandon Sanderson and Peter V. Brett to the heights of success. So, when he doesn’t like something, I listen. It’s very hard for me to disagree with someone with such a strong reputation over so many years.
But on this call, he was wrong. I dug in my heels and I argued and I got him to agree to at least look at the manuscript.
And I was right this time (it doesn’t happen a whole lot when we argue about writing). He called me back a few weeks later to say that the double-helix narrative worked better than a straight chronological approach.
This reminded me of the conversation I had with the outgoing lieutenant when I took command of the reserves at Station New York. He’s one of the best officers I’ve ever seen, and had been running the hell out of the unit for 5 years. We did our Vulcan mind-meld and I milked him for every last tidbit on how he’d run such a taut watch over his tenure there. When it finally came time to say goodbye, I asked him if he had any final advice for me:
“One thing,” he said. “Take everything I just told you as loose guidelines and do it your own way. It’s your ship. You’ll stand or fall by it. Nobody can do it for you.”
It’s your ship.
I don’t know about the rest of you, but my writing career is the most important thing in the world to me. I have dreamed of being a professional writer since I was a little boy, and now that I’ve finally grasped the bottom rung on that ladder, I go in daily fear that the day is coming when I’ll fall back off entirely. It’s more than a career for me, it’s a life passion, it’s the embodiment of a dream.
I have the best support possible. I’m not blowing smoke when I say that I fell in the honeypot: I am with the absolute best publisher in the business, represented by the best agent, supported by the best fans and colleagues a man could ask for.
And none of them can run the ship for me.
I have an amazing publicity team. They’ve gotten me on panels at Comic-Con. They’ve gotten me reviewed in Publisher’s Weekly. They’ve gotten me on speaking engagements alongside luminaries like Noami Novik. But as publishing slims down on its workforce, it doesn’t slim down on its workload. My editor is brilliant, insightful and has a natural knack for tweaking narratives. But she’s also editing Jim Butcher and Patricia Briggs and about 20 other authors. There are only so many compute cycles in a brain, and only so many hours in a day. My agent’s stable keeps growing as his eye for picking amazing talent only sharpens with time.
These people love their work. They are amazing at it. But their work is the aggregate of all they do. Only *I* am totally focussed on my writing career. Only *I* stand or fall by the results. It’s *my* dream. No one else’s.
Here’s the thing with the arts: The discipline exists to push the experiential envelope. Great success comes from doing something new. George R. R. Martin’s slaying of Ned Stark was such an incredible event because he was the first one to do such a thing. Sookie Stackhouse ushed in the vampire-love era, carrying the banner for the urban fantasy genre that would be coined on its heels. Innovation in this space is more critical than even the IT field.
This relentless pushing for the new and different means one critical thing: There is no formula. Nothing that worked before will work again the same way. Everyone’s career is indelibly unique.
Books are better when they’re chronolinear, except when they’re not. You can’t kill a well loved protagonist, except when you can. You should reliably put out a book a year, except when you don’t.
Experts abound. They will confidently tell you how to proceed.
But confidence and experience are not precognition. They aren’t dreaming your dream. You are. You must consider the wise counsel at your hand, take what you like and leave the rest with profuse thanks.
And again the thing that I wish someone had told me when I was on the cusp of my first contract what seems like a lifetime ago:
It’s your ship. Drive it.