More Serial: The Unusual Second Life of Thomas Weaver, Bowl 5, by Shawn Inmon

This installment, part five of six planned, is now available in e-format. I was developmental editor.

Shawn is proving to me that the serial form can be an effective way to release a novel and get paid along the way. It enforces a certain discipline, this form, in that each installment has to pay its way. One cannot decide that Bowl Four, for example, will be the dull downtime bowl. If one were to do that, Bowl Five and Bowl Six would be gutshot. This dynamic demands that the author continue to hold interest, and it comes with risk for him: if he doesn’t stick all his landings, the rest of the planned installments will lose significant portions of readership and sales.

As this bowl came my direction, the overall story was building toward some decisions. Some I expected to like, others not so much, but #5 out of 6 has an additional duty: it’s throwing setup for the closer. It has to prepare the reader for a conclusion many months in coming, and that reader deserves a very good one, because s/he has probably showed fidelity and faith in reading this far. One thing I like about Shawn is that he understands there is a limit to how much one should tease or troll one’s reader, because the reader is his friend. S/he is the reason he has a job; s/he deserves respect and affection; s/he may be teased, but must be able to take on faith the ultimate promise of literary satiation. More simply, Shawn likes and appreciates his reader, s/he knows it, and that’s partly why he sells so much writing. When they figure an author for a phony, he’s finished.

In this particular case, Shawn wrestled the issue of voice uniqueness. Simply put, when his characters have offended other characters and are apologizing, in first drafts there can be an almost predictable sequence to the sorries. I had to rake him over the coals about this, getting my message through: not everyone apologizes the way Shawn does. Some people half-ass it. Some left-hand it. Some can’t choke it out. Few make detailed confessions of fault, full of intensifiers and validations. Perhaps they should, but they do not.

The reason Shawn keeps getting better as a writer is that I can say something to him like: “*sigh* Okay, this is way too much Shawniness. Time to begin the de-Shawnification of this segment,” and he won’t wet himself. Trust me, if you said suchlike to most writers, there would be a new chill in the air; some would fire you on the spot as someone who “doesn’t believe in my work.” Shawn isn’t most writers. He won’t “fight for his words” (he has no opponent; I can’t force him to accept any change). He won’t take offense. He won’t bawl and threaten to quit writing. He’ll look over what I did, keep it if he finds it better than what he had, and learn from it. If he doesn’t understand what I thought was wrong, we’ll discuss it. And next time, he’ll probably write better.

The result has been a serial novel that has improved over the course of its execution. Not bad for a concept to which my initial reaction was: “Oh, for God’s sake, not another fucking time travel story.” (It’s not that I hate all time travel. It’s that I hate lazy time travel, and since we do not know of any practical means to travel in time, there is work to be done in postulating how and why, and some writers consider work to be very icky.) I’m getting very picky about anything paranormal or fantasy, not because I don’t like the genres (look, I edited a parenting book, and I never wanted to be a parent myself), but because most people are leaping onto the bandwagon and doing them wrong. And there’s a problem: the worse the writer, the less receptive s/he will be to growth. It has become predictive and tiresome. If the people who most needed help, truly wanted it, that would be great, but the people who most need help wish to be told they do not need help. I’m not their guy.

If you enjoy a good story by someone who isn’t afraid to break stuff, and who is committed to not letting you down, Shawn’s your guy.

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