Mon
Feb 1 2010 5:40pm

So We Have This Plot Hiccup, And This Deadline...

(Or, “How Fast Can You Write, Kid?”)

In my previous post as a guest blogger here at Tor.com, I touched on some of the brainstorming and planning that goes on behind the scenes when writing Wild Cards novels. I’ve written for three Wild Cards novels, and each  has been a unique experience. (“Unique” means many different things, depending upon the book in question.) In this post, I thought I’d say a little bit about my experience with Inside Straight, which is the first novel of the Committee Triad, and also where my first Wild Cards story appeared. (That is, my first Wild Cards story to be published, not the first WC story I sold to George. But that’s a tale for another post.)

Inside Straight launched the Committee Triad via a pair of interleaved stories. The first story followed the filming of a television reality show called “American Hero.” The second story involved a genocide taking place halfway around the world from Los Angeles. Oddly enough, when co-editors George Martin and Melinda Snodgrass started assembling the book—by interleaving individual chapters written by separate authors, according to an overarching outline—they found these story lines didn’t mesh together seamlessly.

There had been some concern about this possibility during the plot break. But sometimes we need to see the details of a problem, the shape of its teeth and the color of its fur, before we can fix it.

Around this time, I was busy co-writing a Wild Cards story with Walton (Bud) Simons. But, for complicated reasons, the two of us were already working on Busted Flush, the sequel to Inside Straight, and we were elbow deep in our own logistical challenges. I can’t speak for Bud, but I know I wasn’t paying much attention to the discussions about Inside Straight.

For several months, it seems, those discussions went something like this:  “Blah blah American Hero blah blah blah third round blah Team Diamonds blah blah blah blah. Blah blah Egypt, blah blah.”

Until I got the following email from George:

Ian, can you send me your telephone number? We need to discuss Wild Cards.

Naturally, I concluded that I had been kicked out of the consortium. Who wouldn’t? But I sent my number, and my phone rang a few minutes later. The conversation started like this:

“Wow, George, you’re fast.”

“The question is, how fast are you?”

“Ummm...”  (I’m quick on my feet, see.)

“How quickly can you write a new story for Inside Straight?”

And that’s when I learned about the difficulty braiding the two story lines. George recruited me (one of the new kids) and John Miller (a Wild Carder since the earliest days) to write two additional stories that would help weld the disparate plots together.

A few days later, I got together with George, Melinda, and Daniel Abraham. We did a little brainstorming over dinner, and within an hour or so we had the basic scenario worked out. I talked about plot breaking in my previous post. The discussion during dinner was a bit like that, but on a much smaller scale. It didn’t take long for us to figure out where and how the new story would get slotted into the book, because most of the book was nearly finished at this point. Next, we had to figure out how the new story would serve the overarching novel. We thought carefully about the various plotlines, and decided they had to be in state “A” at the beginning of my story, and in state “B” at the end of the story. And, over dessert, we decided that Rustbelt was the best character to use for this transitional story.

So I had my marching orders. And they were pretty straightforward, all things considered. The only catch, of course, was that the entire manuscript for Inside Straight had to be finished (barring final polishes) by December 1. It was mid-November. All of the other contributors to Inside Straight had been working on their stories for months. John and I both had Thanksgiving to write ours.

I spent most of that holiday writing (and rewriting) my contribution for the book, though I did step away from the keyboard long enough for turkey and cranberries.

But it really wasn’t as bad as it might sound. In fact, looking back on the entire trilogy, I’d say Inside Straight was the easiest of my three contributions. (At the time, though, I never expected I’d be saying that, which tells you something about Wild Cards.)

All I had to do was work out a character arc that took Rusty from “A” to “B” in the allotted word count. After that it was just a matter of building a plot around that arc. I finished it on time, at the requested length, with minimal blood loss. John finished his story around the same time. We did our work long after everybody else had written their pieces of the book. But it turned out OK in the end. Or so I'm told.

An unintended consequence of this situation (but one that is very Wild Cards) is that Rustbelt became a much more important character in the triad than originally intended. Rustbelt is a character that I proposed to George in a three-sentence email on the spur of the moment. (“He’s from Minnesota. He’s made of metal. He can rust stuff.”) In contrast, Genetrix, the first of my characters whom George accepted into the Wild Cards canon, came with two pages of backstory and character description, yet I only wrote one story for her.

I had a year to do it. But it was much harder. So in my next post, I'll talk about Busted Flush.


Ian Tregillis is a novelist, scientist, man of leisure, and mammal. His first novel, Bitter Seeds, will debut on April 13, 2010. The second and third volumes of his alternate history trilogy, The Milkweed Tryptych, are forthcoming from Tor Books in 2010 and 2011.

9 comments
Chuk Goodin
1. Chuk
So, was he just like "You know, no pressure, you've got two weeks?" Scary.

I just finished Suicide Kings on the weekend and I'm glad Rusty became more central. This new trilogy's been great, probably as good as anything since the first seven books or so.
Michael Grosberg
2. Michael_GR
I know this comment will probably be deleted. It does not pertain to this post... rather to the one at the top of the website, the one with closed comments. I just want to say, that now that Amazon capitulated, I think it can be removed altogether. As I understand Tor.com it is a website where readers and creators (writers, artists) can interact. The business end of Tor publishing should be none of no interest to us, and, for those who are interested, there re plenty of private blogs we can discuss it.
Elio García
3. Egarcia
Writing under the gun must be ... exciting. Rusty's a great character, and I'm glad he became more central to the story. Not least because he got to feature on that Suicide Kings cover which is just ridiculously beautiful.
Ian Tregillis
4. ITregillis
Chuk @ 1:

I didn't mean to give the impression that George commanded me to write the new story. The conversation was more along the lines of, "Hey, we've got this problem, and I know it would be a bit of a burden to do it so quickly, but do you think you could help us out?" So I did have the option of backing out. But I didn't, for what seemed like good ideas at the time :-)

I'm very glad you enjoyed the trilogy. Thank you.

Egarcia @ 3:

I'd be lying if I said I wasn't deeply pleased when Rusty got chosen for the cover of Suicide Kings. The coolest part is that some friends of mine got together and gave me a framed print of that lovely Komarck artwork. I love it.

Thanks for the kind words about Rusty.

Michael_GR @ 2:

I'm not a site administrator. Your suggestion would be better addressed to the site admins; perhaps try questions@tor.com. That way we can keep the discussion on topic. Thanks!
Juhan R
5. Juhan R
Hello, Ian.

I have only read "Inside Straight" at this moment (for some reason, "Busted Flush" is a bit late in arriving in paperback here in Estonia) but I gotta say: Rustbelt was one of my favorite characters in the first book. I mean, he really stood out. And you know, even if "Wild Cards" tries to be very even in style (and mostly succeeds), as a reader, you DO get a sense of different individual styles from the authors and their stories... so I have to say again - your work was some of the best. (others were all very good as well, of course)

And to learn that these stories were written so fast and under such difficult circumstances is both shocking and inspiring.

I'll definitely be checking out your other work. Where to start?
Ian Tregillis
7. ITregillis
Juhan R @ 5:

Thank you very much for the kind words. I'm glad you enjoyed Inside Straight. Rusty is a lot of fun to write.

You might enjoy my stories in the other two novels of the "Committee" Triad, Busted Flush and Suicide Kings. I also have a novel coming out in April, about which you can learn more at my website. Thanks for asking!
Juhan R
8. crinosg
I actually just finished Suicide Kings the other day, great end to the trilogy (these were actually the first Wild cards books I ever read, and are a great intro into the universe). Rusty and Genetrix were some of my favorite characters from the books (although my number one favorite was the Amazing Bubbles), I liked Niobe because she had such a unique power, and I liked Wally because he was just a big lovable tin can.
Paul Howard
9. DrakBibliophile
Michael_GR, I didn't see this as part of the 'business nuts & bolts'. It is about the creative 'fun and games' of writing a series with many authors.
Ian Tregillis
10. ITregillis
Crinosg @ 8:

Thanks very much! And I'm glad to hear you enjoyed the Committee Triad. The next Wild Cards novel, Fort Freak, promises to be a fun read. I didn't pitch for that novel (and if I had, who knows if I would have made the cut), but the lineup is stellar.

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