Tag Archives: serial

The Strange Second Life of Thomas Weaver, Bowl 6 and final

This, now out in Kindle, completes the serial novel Shawn began some time back. I was developmental editor.

Some time ago, Shawn proposed the saga of a middle-aged loser who commits suicide in his early fifties and awakens in his fifteen-year-old body, over thirty-five years back in time. Writers often bomb at time shifting and travel, because it keeps creating thorny issues that most authors gloss over or mishandle. When Shawn brought the idea up to me, I hammered on that point. If he must do it, and couldn’t be dissuaded, very well; but he should know that I wasn’t going to sit quietly and accept crummy shortcuts without vocal objections. He expressed an interest in my vocal objections, then got to work.

We had our first big disagreement during Bowl 2, if memory serves. I should put this in perspective: by a disagreement, I don’t mean we had harsh words, hard feelings, or anything negatively affecting the relationship. Rather: Shawn wanted to do what he wanted to do, I told him it was a very unwise idea, he explained his reasoning, and we ultimately worked out a plot solution that didn’t give either of us heartburn. During Bowl 6 the last, we had another round of these, both of which centered around the nature and timing of the rebirth of souls in his universe. Shawn was leaning toward actions and solutions that he felt would be more emotionally satisfying to the reader. I was arguing the side of situational ‘physics,’ used in the loosest possible sense given that all of this time travel stuff–and angels, for that matter–go against all our known conventional physics. By physics in this context, I mean what a thinking person could logically infer given the altered assumptions in play. I guess it’s fair to say I prevailed, though not in some overwhelming way, because when I object to a plot choice, it doesn’t very often mean that I am insisting on a specific alternative. It means I feel strongly that we need something other than what the author is proposing. If that’s how I feel, I must participate in helping the client perfect a solution that will pacify me.

I also did a thing the reader has no way to notice, but that I think will affect Shawn’s writing going forward. As I see my job, to the extent my client wants to grow, I always have some duty to teach. Difficulty: I am a very linear thinker who tends to dial in on a given mode and stick to it. This can result in very disciplined, consistent work, but it can be fundamentally uncreative since it may disregard for too long signs that the chosen mode is unsuitable for the best outcome. In this context, it means that when I am reviewing, I am not editing. At all. I salt the ms with little margin comments, always in lower case to distinguish them, so that I make sure to fix certain things when the real editing begins: “nts ghastly phrasing” “sp” “nts punct” “tcfkao”* and so on. (‘nts’ = ‘note to self’.) I don’t want or expect the client to fix these, though if s/he chooses to, what am I going to do, complain? I am better at review and commentary and teaching when I’m not being the punctuation mechanic.

Here, Shawn had a section that was well isolated from the rest, about a third of the way into the story. For those who end up reading it, it’s the very significant discussion Thomas has with Anne. The original was full of overtell, enough that it would be more like rewriting than editing. I don’t mind doing that, but it’s hard for an author to learn from tracked changes. So, this once, I did the editing early and asked Shawn to go over it with great care, and in each case put his takeaway lesson in comments. Afterward, I found it very hard to get back into the I-will-read-and-comment-without-changes mode, and I probably did some minor edits without thinking about it. No harm done, just one of the situations we encounter, germane to a piece on how the sausage is made.

The end result is something that keeps taking on the tough questions even as it rides into the sunset. I think readers will love it.

 

* The Comma Formerly Known As Oxford. I’m in full earnest about my rejection of Oxford’s moral authority over the English language after they sighed and said that ‘literally’ can mean ‘metaphorically.’ It can’t, they’re wrong, that decision was moneychanging in my temple, and I will drive them from it with scourges. However, the comma situation still remains, and we need a reference term for it. Ideally it would be a reference term that aims a banderilla at Oxford’s overhyped withers in every feasible instance. Therefore, “tcfkao.”

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Serial is good for you: new release, The Unusual Second Life of Thomas Weaver, Book 1

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.