Fighting The Last-Book Hangover, Or: An Overly-Revealing Look Into The Writing Process

(NOTE: Based on time elapsed since the posting of this entry, the BS-o-meter calculates this is 10.854% likely to be something that Ferrett now regrets.)

So as y’all should know by now, I’ve been live-writing my latest book The Song That Shapes The World to raise funds for the Clarion Science Fiction Workshop.
I’m now going to trash three weeks’ worth of work.
It’s not because what I’ve written over the last few weeks is bad.  It’s typical first-draft stuff that needs cleaning, but it’s a strong start: a musician fleeing an abusive marriage stumbles into the mystical world of Backstage, where once every decade they have a Battle of the Bands that determines the song that shapes the multiverse.  I like the lead character.  She’s got depth I could explore in a different manuscript.
But she’s the wrong character for the book I want to write.
The book I initially described was “Pitch Perfect with magic.”  I want something that is, if not light, at least full of weirdness and humor and bizarre situations.  I want friendship.  I want oddball.
And what I wrote was mundane, everyday angst.
Now, I know why I wrote angst: it’s a last-book hangover.  See, the manuscript I finished before this one is the as-yet-unsold Savor Station – which is, hands-down, the best thing I have written.  And that novel is mournful and elegaic, because, well it’s the story of a prince who’s been starved of everything good in life (including food and dignity) and regains strength by finding the finest restaurant in all the stars.
And I hit that book so out of the park that when I started writing The Song That Shapes The World I was like, “The last time I wrote a very sad person in a dire situation, I wrote a great novel, soooooo…. let’s do that again!”  I even, I am shamed to admit, went back and reread the opening to Savor Station to go, “Okay, how can I duplicate that?”
But rehashing what I did well last time is not delivering what got me excited about this.  I could make a good book about this, but that book wouldn’t be “Pitch Perfect with magic,” it’d be “Savor Station with music.” And while it’d be nice if my muse decided to write tonally-consistent books, apparently I write novels like I write short stories – continually switching valences.
(Rich Horton, noted short story reviewer, met me at a party and said that I was notable for the way no two of my short stories sounded alike.  He did not make this sound like this was actually a strength.)
I could continue and write a book I’m capable of writing, or I could set everything on fire to write the book I am thrilled to write.
Yet!  This is a fantastically interesting situation!  Because what I’m going to do is swap out the lead character and write the exact same story, and show you how the story needs to change when the protagonist changes!
Gone is Gwendolyn of old, who’s practiced in her husband’s recording studio for three years but has never been certain of her talent before live audiences.
Arrived is Gwendolyn the new, the samurai musician, who sees fame as a virus.  She hitchhikes from obscure bar to obscure bar, waiting months between performances, playing for people who don’t even know she’s supposed to be there.
In both cases, the Gwendolyns stumble into a bar, hoping to play.
In both cases, the Gwendolyns flee the bar and head to the mystical world of Backstage.
In both cases, the Gwendolyns meet the dragon-riding, cello-playing nemesis who escorts them into this bold new world.
But what you get to see – at least if you donate and get your membership for the Clarion Echo blog I’m doing – is how a book’s plot is tailored to its protagonist’s weaknesses and strengths.  This isn’t a matter of swapping out personalities – a story’s elements are about showcasing what the protagonist can do and jabbing at their weak spots, and so the bar that Gwendolyn the old walked into would be no challenge at all for Gwendolyn the new.
The bar changes.  The people changes.  The attitude changes.
And if you donate $10, you get to see how mutable a world is when a writer’s starting out.  You can read the old chapters, then see the new chapters as I write ’em, weigh in, maybe help me refine the magic system a bit.  And you do that by donating the cost of a couple of coffees to the Clarion Foundation, which is a good cause that helps writers.
Anyway.  I’m starting that tonight.  You can come watch.
I’m kinda excited about this.
So as always, here’s the steps to do this:
Step #1: Donate at least $10 to the Clarion Foundation.  More is good if you can spare it.  You don’t have to donate in my name or anything, because honestly, their Write-a-Thon webpage forms are dreadful.
Step #2: If you don’t already have one, create a LiveJournal account.  Rejoice in this feeling of web page time-travel, as one suspects there’s not a lot of new LJ accounts created!
Step #3: Email with your Clarion receipt and your LiveJournal handle, with a header of “HEY FERRETT LET ME IN.”  I’ll do the mystical LJ gestures to get you access.
Step #4: Watch me figure out how to introduce you to the new Gwendolyn and her new challenges.
Step #5: Share this post if ya can!

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