No, you haven’t missed anything. I haven’t been announcing these installments, though I ought to have done so all along. This is the fourth of what will eventually be six installments, and I was substantive editor.
Shawn at times brings up story ideas just to troll me. I deserve this, because he has a thick skin about some of my margin comments. When he first brought up the idea of a middle-aged failure who commits suicide and wakes up back in his teenage body before life went south, I showed exaggerated patience in acquainting him with all the issues time travel brings into storytelling. That failed to discourage him, and he wound up writing a very good story anyway.
Now we’re on Bowl 4 of the serial, and what I like is that Shawn’s not afraid to wreck stuff. (Not often, anyway. Whenever he gets too attached to his characters, I heckle him about it, and we get some action.) He has thought through the metaphysics of his story environment, and in my view, has made good decisions and lived by them rather than taking the easy way out. When authors answer “why is it this way in your book?” with “because I say it is,” that’s usually code for “because thinking it through was work, and would have been icky, and I just wanted to write this, so I did, go to hell.” They never get by with giving me that answer, but too many are willing to give it to their customers. That’s what readers are, the customers, and authors need to remember that.
Of course, that doesn’t mean we can’t rock the readers’ world. Fairly typical conversation:
Shawn: “And then I’m going to kill off Person A, ruin Person B’s life, and leave them wondering where that leaves Person C.”
Me: “Your readers love Person C, and will think you’re a sick man for doing that to him.”
Shawn: “Yep! This is going to be great!”
The serialized novel, impractical in the pre-e-reader days, is getting more traction. As a form, it offers advantages:
- The author has to hook people into the story early, or they won’t stay with him/her.
- The pricing and revenue are spread out.
- The author may later choose to combine the bowls into a full-length novel, which means a chance to correct anything s/he doesn’t like in hindsight.
- It offers people quick reads, a thing I can appreciate as I wade halfway through a history of Argentina that’s got to be six hundred pages, half of them purely about economic data with a focus on cattle products.
In the case of this particular bowl, I had to help Shawn break his logjam. He no more believes in writer’s block than I do, but there are times when he finds his motivation and creativity at an ebb. When that happens, he does what he should do. He sends a shoutout to his hardworking and dedicated editor, explains his plight, and requests help. In this case, I took a look at the story so far and told him: “You are bored with your characters. Memorable characters are a strength of yours, and it’s time for you to inject a brand new one.” That’s a good method for most fiction authors when they find the writing in a bogdown phase: maybe it’s time to create a new character to play with. Shawn went to town, came up with someone fun and entertaining, and that gave him the creativity laxative he needed. (He will get me for that.)
This serial has exceeded my expectations, and I think readers are enjoying it as much as I enjoy working on it.