The first bowl of this serial is available today in Kindle format. I was substantive/developmental editor.
Shawn Inmon and I have as nearly ideal an editor/author relationship as one can imagine. My job is to tell him exactly what I think, without holding back. If what I think is that his idea is inadvisable, and he insists on going through with it anyway, my job is to help him make it the best possible story. His job is to conceive and write the story, ask for my help when he finds himself perplexed or stuck, and send me a check when I finish editing. We do our jobs.
When Shawn first told me he wanted to write a story that incorporated elements of time travel, I groaned hard and loud. With time travel, suspension of disbelief is very difficult. My viewpoint is that an author gets one, and only one, “because I say it works” explanation for something that has serious plausibility problems. For everything else, an underlying explanation must exist even if not articulated, and that underlying explanation needs not to be stupid. Many authors squander their BISIW excuse on something petty, then continue to use it in lieu of intelligent characterization and world shaping. When someone objects, they sniff that that’s just their creative process. The result may be a good story idea taken to levels that render it silly.
Time travel thus plays that card immediately, and the problem then is that from the moment a character goes back in time, an alternative sequence of events unfolds. If you want someone to avoid a problem in July, and send him back to April, by July the actual problem will no longer be the same as in the first version of history, proportionate to the character’s ripple effect. For example, an earthquake would still occur on schedule, because there is not much anyone can do to change them. However, its impact would change dramatically, because the time travel would change the actions of many people.
Folks don’t always get that, which is why you see sports fans complaining that the ref cost them the game in the last two minutes. They hate it when I say: “Actually, on the first series, a ref cost you the game–maybe.” They do not understand, and do not like this, as it challenges their victimhood in an emotional moment. With no memory of any actual event, I say with confidence: “Well, on third down, an offensive lineman was guilty of holding. [Since offensive linemen hold on every down except for the V-formation kneeldowns, this is automatically true.] The officials did not call the penalty, and the other team made a first down that should have become a third-and-long. The bottom line is that, had your team played better throughout, it probably would have won, and blaming the refs is a lame loser’s sour grapes.” I don’t much like to watch sporting events in groups, as you may imagine. But you see my point, I trust: change time, and you change events in an outward ripple. Some people miss out on car accidents, while new people die in them. Some people get phone calls that halt impulse buys, while new people do not, and take actions they could not have taken while on the phone (a decreasing set, of late). You can’t drop someone into a situation three months before a decisive event, then expect that the event unfolds on schedule, unless it is completely immune to human choices. A volcanic eruption, for example. Yes, a scheduled election would still take place, but not in the same way.
The need to explain all that is one reason I don’t look forward to time travel stories as an editor. It’s no fun telling someone that his or her brainchild doesn’t work. And while I can fix bad writing, I can’t always fix a bad story idea, nor do most clients want to pay me to do so. The logical rejoinder is to find “an editor who believes in my work.” I understand that, even though an editor who does not but is willing to help would serve that author better.
On top of that, Shawn wanted to rehash the Shawn-and-Dawn story again with him in it, going back in time to fix his mistakes. That story has been written twice, and has inspired another book that is somewhat derivative. It. Had. Been. Done. And. Done. And. Somewhat. Done. Again.
So. I talked Shawn out of the rehash, at least, then explained to him what the problems were with time travel, and he accepted that he was burning his one BISIW with his premise. The rest of his story, if it were to succeed, would have to pay its way on demonstrated good sense, originality, and merit. Shawn got cracking. At one point, he huddled with me to work though some storyline issues he found perplexing. I can usually suggest an alternate route that will work, which is the developmental part of the editing. Shawn had a bit of a slog with some recent projects, partly due to self-imposed deadlines and partly because he felt compelled to finish what he’d begun. Both are good habits, but they can mean one would ideally be doing something else. In addition, I have been after Shawn for many months to break out of his comfort zones with his fiction. Shawn loves music, youth romance, the small-town Northwest, and other familiar inclusions. I believe that it’s okay for authors to have pet themes–look how well it worked for John Irving–provided they don’t go so far as recycling the same basic storyline and characters.
Then Shawn got the idea to release it in serial format. Since the original ms had not been designed for serialization, this presented issues as to where the story should break. When Shawn first presented the idea to me, this installment ended with Thomas’s key decision; it was much shorter. My response to Shawn, paraphrased: “And that’s it? That’s all? If you are moving this to serial format, I don’t have a lot of experience with the concept, but I can tell you that if you break it there, you will not generate a ton of interest in the second installment. Your first installment must provide some form of conclusion, yet must hold out the promise of interesting things to come.” Shawn agreed, and moved the breakpoint forward. I think he picked a good spot given the flow of the tale. We may have several more discussions about breakpoints, because I believe that each installment needs to be rewarding on its own merit, and Shawn concurs.
Here, Shawn sets up shop in a different state than Washington. His protag is decidedly unsympathetic, but nuanced and very much unlike previous protags, and we see other characters taking on balance and nuance as well. He proves that he can begin a story without teen romance. What Shawn does best is get the esoteric details right, point up the silliness of pop culture, and time his epiphanies well. ‘Write what you know’ means not to just wing it, but to present backdrop and experience informed by real life experience or strong research. Shawn’s sales experience, real estate career, and the career path leading to those things give him a wealth of authenticity upon which to draw. You can always count on Shawn to take an aspect of pop culture and present it in just absurd enough fashion to bring a knowing smile. And when his characters should have realizations, they often do. Not always, not predictably. But often enough, and often not the one the reader would have anticipated.
I do not know how many installments will comprise this series, but I liked the first one very well. I suspect you will too.
9 thoughts on “Serial is good for you: new release, The Unusual Second Life of Thomas Weaver, Book 1”
Thanks for the commentary. I’ve really enjoyed Shawn’s previous books. Based on your recommendation, I have no doubt I’ll enjoy this one also.
Glad to hear it, OSG. I have had a lot of enjoyment watching Shawn’s writing mature, and this story does everything we know him to do well.
I read it this morning. Couldn’t put it down & can’t wait for the next installment!
Should be coming soon, OSG. Glad you loved it! Shawn has really enjoyed writing this, so I am pretty sure new installments won’t be that far out.
It’s really cool for me to see this side of book writing and it’s always fun to watch the back and forth between you and Shawn. I’m excited about reading this.
Thanks, Zack. Glad to have you stop by. It’s a case where I always feel I shouldn’t have to be told that it’s valuable for me to offer my client a little promo oomph, but that oomph has to pay its way for my own readership. I do not think anyone comes here to see ads. However, a look into the kitchen, to see how the sauce is made and so on, might be of significant interest. And Shawn approves (that’s a must; otherwise, I owe him confidentiality), so it all works out. I think most people expect that working with an editor is like being on Hell’s Kitchen with the editor as Gordon Ramsay “That riso’o is RAW! YOU’LL KILL SOMEONE, yew dawn-key!” In reality, it can be as collegial as the two personalities will allow.
That’s a great point. I would say the large majority see a book and don’t stop to think about the entire team it takes to put it together. It’s interesting for me to see in the kitchen like you said. I think it also gives people an understanding of what they should be looking for.
I’m sure, like anything else, there are some bad eggs (on both sides) that do like you mentioned. There is no reason it has to be that way though. What’s the point in paying an editor if you don’t listen to them? How long will you be an editor if you edit like Ramsay?
Well, I guess one could look at it this way: if the majority can’t tell what we did, just enjoy the result, then that’s a rather high compliment to those of us in the kitchen. But I know some people enjoy sitting at the chef’s table. And you are right: some people hire an editor purely so they can argue with him or her. I am not the editor for them, not because I cannot support my views, but because I’m not hard up enough to endure a lot of foolishness. And yeah, if I embraced the Ramsay method, I’m pretty sure it would drive away all the most receptive and highest potential clients. If we in the kitchen always remember that the end result to shoot for is the best possible reading we can craft, we can never stray too far from good habits.
As far as time travel goes, I have two theories, but we could go on for hours.