Thursday, May 11, 2006

Second Season

I am pleased and proud to announce that COUNTING HEADS has been doing well enough (going into its third printing) that I have been afforded the privilege of publishing a second book.

I've recently signed a contract with Tor with a September 2007 delivery date. Such a short deadline makes me nervous, since I've never written under contract before, and 18 months seems to me an incredibly brief length of time to do a novel (the first one took six years if you include "We Were Out of Our Minds with Joy"). But I am filling binders with words and I'm fairly confident in my abilities.

I want to give a few details about Book 2, but first I should try to clear up a loose end or two about COUNTING HEADS. One thing that almost every review remarked on was the ending. Here's how Bookmarks Magazine, a sort of review digest for bibliophiles, put it, "Only the ending rang false in its brevity, suggesting that perhaps a sequel may be on its way."

So, is Book 2 a sequel, and if so, why was that fact missing on the COUNTING HEADS cover?

Book 2, which has a working title of MIND OVER OSHIP, does pick up right after the close of CH, with the same characters and overarching story line, but I don't think of it as a sequel, for that implies that the initial book was complete in itself. "Second in a series," is closer but I think implies more plot cohesion than I have in mind. I prefer to use a TV metaphor and think of these books as seasons of an ensemble cast drama, like ER or The West Wing.

What is the story arc of ER? A look at working in a busy county hospital emergency room in Chicago. That's it; that's what serves as plot. Characters come and go through the seasons, issues are explored, the administration and set changes (as they would in real life), and patients keep rolling in for their life and death struggles. The plot of The West Wing is: This is what it's like working in the White House for a popular liberal president. How much more open-ended can you get? Would you call the second season of ER a sequel of the first? Do you expect each season to wrap up all the individual plot threads? I don't think so.

With the TV model in mind, my story arc is about a thousand-year voyage aboard a colony ship traveling to a new star system, including the time it takes to get off the ground, the trip itself, and time spent at the other end at the destination. In other words, my plot line is quite open-ended, and I think the only limit to its run is declining interest, both the readers' and mine. And I feel empowered to leave a lot of loose ends at the end of any single season--book.

While I regret that no mention of future installments appeared at the CH release, I certainly understand why it didn't. Most readers have no idea how competitive the media is these days. It's excruciatingly tough to break into print in the fiction field. Publishers don't just hand out contracts, especially to writers of quirky fiction like me. I believe that David Harwell and Tor took a chance on me. I believe this because of all the other publishers who saw the manuscript passed on it. It doesn't surprise me that my sale was for a single book, not a trilogy. I'm not sure I would have even accepted a multi-book deal, not being sure I could even write one book at the time.

This brings up another sticky point. Some readers think that CH is half a book. This misimpression is probably my fault. On this blog (the inaugural posting) and other places I describe the CH timeline in which I describe how Hartwell asked me to cut the book in two (at 185,000 words it was just too long for marketing purposes). While it's true that I did cut the book in two, he subsequently asked me to put them back together for artistic reasons, and that's what I did. CH is the whole book, even if, as the Publisher's Weekly reviewer said, "it doesn't so much come to a conclusion as crash headlong into the last page."


Peter said...

I must say the contract is excellent news! And at least for your readers the short deadline is good news too :)
I guess it's not entirely untrue that CH "crash[es] headlong into the last page", but I didn't mind, somehow. A lot of the characters' story-arcs don't finish, but the main thrust (the rescuing of the head) is completed. And because the novel is really such a window into the life of the world at the time it's set, I didn't feel it needed "closure", as such. I can't wait for more of the same, anyway!

Anonymous said...

Loved the book...but the mentar's (considering they are sentient) seemed to be treated like second class citizens by both their sponsors and even you as the author! I really cared for them, yet they were "killed" or changed with little sense of loss (Henry, Hubert, Wee Hunk). It's obvious that there are loose threads to be continued in the next book - the search for Hubert, for example, but still...

And I'm probably a bit slow, but why is Concierge still around at the end of the book when it was so obviously altered (it could no longer understand Starkese). Surely Ellen would have got rid of it? For me that was the only thing that seemed to need more details. In general an author shouldn't explain everything, but this just made me confused!

Still, as I said, I loved the book overall, and was kept entralled to the end.