Tag Archives: serialized novel

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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Eat your serial: The Unusual Second Life of Thomas Weaver, Bowl 4, by Shawn Inmon

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.