The perversity of the universe tends towards a maximum
Progress Notes: not so much
So the boy's in Michigan. Except for the day job, my time is my own. I could write all day. Forget to eat. Drink endless pots of tea and lounge on the bed with my laptop and a randomly determined number of cats (n, where n=<4, unless one I don't know about joins the clan.)
And it's lovely here, chilly with an honestly March-like chilliness, and not faux desert chilliness that only feels like chilliness in comparison to a 115-degree day. I have a sweatshirt on (my beloved, and somewhat aged, Federal Witness Protection Program logo shirt, which amuses me beyond all comparison to how funny it is, and confuses more people than any other shirt I've ever had except the one I used to wear in college that just said GODOT) and I am wearing fuzzy socks (my mother-in-law gave them to me for Easter, and they are the most wonderful socks ever, even if they are in girly colors and ankle socks. But soft, so soft, ooooo some sort of fluffy synthetic chenille terrycloth stuff...)
And I'm drinking tea and am at peace with the world.
And I haven't had this little idea of how to get from where I am in a book to where I need to be since I was writing Hammered, which was my first real foray into thriller-style plotting, where you present the various disparate threads and spiderweb them together. (And I was also trying to do that John Brunner thing where you wham! bang the story on the table in a paper bag until it shatters, and then pour the bits out and make a mosiac with them. Which I seem to have gotten away with, somehow, or at least some readers caught on.)
'kay, segue to four years later.
I can point to the books that marked a big skill jump for me as a writer.
Hammered (my fourth novel, if you don't count juvenilia) is one--I hit a dead stop a third of the way into the manuscript, and about panicked. I had this horrible pressing sensation that the book was just too big, it didn't fit into my head, I didn't understand it. I solved that one by outlining everything I had already written, scene by scene, and noting what each scene accomplished and what questions it raised. (And that was when I figured out I had a trilogy on my hands.) And then I set about herding the cats.
The next book that marked a big skill jump was the very next book after Hammered, the book that was once called Shadowhand and then became Bridge of Blood & Iron before being cropped simply to Blood & Iron (eee, fantasy title picked off the List Of Fantastical Words, one from each column chart! But it's a Bismarck quote, so surely I get some sort of a gimme on that one, right?). That book, I had the hideous feeling throughout that I was unearthing the corpse of a dragon. I knew the book was all there, underground. And I bitched it up the first time through, rewrote it, bitched it up again, fixed it (I thought), sent it off to my agent who said "You bitched it up, Bear," gutted it, rewrote it again (including ~60,000 new words and two new POV characters), and now we have to sell the damed thing.
That was Number Five. It remains the hardest book I've ever written, and--I think--the second-best. Now.
Number six was Scardown, which was easy.
Number seven/eight was two books in one, and marks the biggest skill jump so far. It was The Stratford Man, all eleven hundred and thirty-four manuscript pages of it, in its entirety. (It's a duology, but was written as one book.) And every single moment of the six months I was writing that book was one long push uphill against a mountain of "this is too hard and too complicated and I can't do this." The problems were various--the sheer monolithic mass of a plot that stretches from May of 1593 to November of 1605 (Oh, I just heard somebody laugh in recognition), the cast of thousands, the voice that needed to be both transparent but not jarringly anachronistic, the mountain of research and then the necessity of getting that research into the book without infodumping or endless passages that amount to I suffered for my art--
Damn. Just thinking about it makes me blanch. Although with that book, I always knew what was happening next--and usually far ahead indeed. I was writing 3,000 words a day at one point, and they were good words. And you know, it still felt like Sisyphus pushing that rock uphill. "Let me know when we get to twenty... because when we get to twenty, I'm going to puke."
It was strictly the technical matters of the worldbuilding and the historical characters that were boggling me. (And now we have to sell that one, too.)
And now I'm looking at Carnival, which is lucky number thirteen. And I'm wondering--if Hammered was apprentice work, and The Stratford Man was my journeyman piece, I think Carnival may be the masterwork. Not in the sense of "best work I will ever accomplish" (I'm not that arrogant, and I also rather hope I'm not done at 33, so to speak), but in the sense that this is a book that demands the plotting and pacing skills I learned from Hammered (I have four major plots, and a bunch of subplots, and a whole payloader full of sensawunda, and only 500 pages in which to get through them all), and the characterization skills and the subtlety that Blood & Iron taught me, and the expositional package that I learned over the course of The Stratford Man.
And a host of other skills as well--it wants an uncharacteristically transparent prose style, generally much more unobtrusive than most of my writing--and making that prose energetic and powerful without falling into the trap of allowing it to become plain is a workout. I have three POV characters--a diplomat, a spy, and a political officer--who are all so unreliable and full of secrets that I can't get an honest reaction out of any of them, and the non-POV characters are even more opaque. I have a plot I haven't even begun to work out the details and implications of. I have about the shiniest SF idea I've ever come up with. I have even cooler aliens than last time.
It is, in other words, a book that wants to synthesize all the various skills I've learned over the course of writing the last twelve books, and be a New And Different Thing all on its own.
So now I have a quarter of a book. I have the setup completed, the initial worldbuilding accomplished, the trails of breadcrumbs laid. I have the major characters introduced, and the larger issues hinted at.
And I have absolutely no idea at all what comes next. I know a few plot points, but the major antagonists have not yet chosen to make their motivations known, and while (wo)man-versus-society is all very nice, it helps if society has an agenda, too, rather than being a sort of static monolith (there's that word again).
And here's the really odd part. I'm not scared any more. A month ago I was terrified of this book. What I had on paper was Not Good; what I had in my head was profoundly inadequate to what I wanted the book to do. Now, I am at peace with my utter lack of ability to write the rest of this story until it sorts itself out in my head. I am thinking. I am pending. The book is a potential, a wave that hasn't collapsed... which is, in itself, appropriate to the concepts it plays with, come to think of it.
It is Schrödinger's book.
In the meantime, I await the book.
The book will come.