Cheeseburger Gothic

The Festival of Charlie

Posted May 13, 2013 into Writing by John Birmingham

Every writer dreams of taking back every book they ever wrote. There's always one more line to be tweaked. One more character to be fleshed out. One subplot to be eased into place to fit that much more snugly. Every book has a directors cut that you never see. If I had the chance I would totally rewrite Weapons of Choice, cutting back on the number of POV characters, smoothing out the narrative arc, which runs at warp speed in places, and drags along in others.
Meeting Charlie Stross for the first time in Perth I was fascinated and a little envious to discover he had done just that with his Traders series. I've had these books, a sort of alternate history portal jumping series, sitting on my must read shelf for a while now. A recommendation from the boys at Pulp Fiction. I love a good portal jump, but the cheap looking fantasy covers chosen by Tor and the implication there would be unicorns, or unicorn analogues, on the other side of the portal put me off.
I think they put Charlie off too because he spent a lot of time rewriting and repackaging this series to be published in the way he originally envisaged them as sci-fi driven alternate history techno-thrillers. (Sound familiar? He was writing these books at the same time as I was putting together Weapons).
The story of how they more from one genre into another is over at Tor. It's a marvelous tale of the way that old world publishing sometimes shoots itself in the arse:


Back in 2002, an eleven-years-younger me had just sold his first two SF novels to Ace, an American imprint of Penguin. As is usually the case, the contract for the books gave Ace the right of first refusal on my next SF novel. ‘But they won’t be interested in seeing your next until the first two are in print, which will take a couple of years,’ said my literary agent. ‘So why don’t you write a big fat fantasy or alternate history series, something which isn’t SF, so I can sell it elsewhere?’ (I love my agent: she’s got all the cold-blooded business sense that I missed out on at birth.)
One thing led to another, and I came up with a plan for gigantic parallel-universe techno-thrillers about folks from another time-line who have the ability to visit our own, and the toppling domino-stack of terrible consequences that unwind when their existence is uncovered. Then I wrote the first book. It weighed in at around 500 pages, and my agent liked it and made some suggestions, and I re-drafted it at 600 pages, and then she tried to sell it.

That's when everything turned to unicorn poo.

A marketing edict determined that the technothrillers would become fantasy epics and everything went a bit odd.

Longer story short, he's since had the chance to redo the books as he intended, and he took it. Even though I've bought the original series, I'm going to get the new ones and read them instead.

Below I've extracted a passage that that covers my favorite part of a 'portal' story. The first jump.

13 Responses to ‘The Festival of Charlie’

Dilph has opinions thus...

Posted May 13, 2013

The urge to rewrite is a very strong one...

I remember when i was still a kid, I had the urge to write The Great Fanatsy Novel.. which was, of course, a horrible half-chewed regurgitation of whatever I'd read recently - I recall it being heavily R. A. Salvatore flavoured. But I was never able to get past the first chapter before going back to the start and revising/rewriting/editing... how much worse must it be when you have a whole novel to change?

I've always just been impressed that people manage to finish things without the whole editing paralysis thing kicking in.

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beeso is gonna tell you...

Posted May 13, 2013

Can you get this electronically yet?

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w from brisbane would have you know...

Posted May 13, 2013

Hang on! I've been waiting for Charles Stross's promised book "The Sparkling",
A book that he said would be the first in a series of books in the Unicorn School™ about a girl who fall in love with a Sparkly Unicorn™.
Where is it!!
He promised it in his statement in 2010.
Yeah, here's the proof! It was on April the first, 2010.

http://www.antipope.org/charlie/blog-static/2010/04/psa-new-book-deal.html

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Murphy puts forth...

Posted May 13, 2013

I read the first three of those in the series at about the same time I was reading the Weapons of Choice triology. In fact, I might have been reading the last of that batch at the time time we were editing Final Impact.

Definitely worth the time, John. That said, I couldn't be bothered after the third one though for the life of me, I can't remember why.

Respects,

Murph

On the Outer Marches

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Surtac reckons...

Posted May 13, 2013

I've read pretty much all of Charlie's stuff apart from this series. Something kept me from it - it must have been the unicorns.

Guess I'd better rectify things with the new versions ...

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Brother PorkChop would have you know...

Posted May 13, 2013

And here I was getting all excited about a festival of Charlie.... Cleaned off the mirro, sharpened the blade and did some starw maintenance. Bugger.

Brother PorkChop would have you know...

Posted May 13, 2013

Clearly excited as spelling went to shite - mirror, straw. Will now add these books to my book list.

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Paul_Nicholas_Boylan ducks in to say...

Posted May 13, 2013

"Every writer dreams of taking back every book they ever wrote."

So true. I've written only one book - Sex Slaves of the Congo. I wish to hell I never allowed it to be published. Yes, the money was good. But at a terrible personal and professional cost.

Bunyip would have you know...

Posted May 13, 2013

These are surely the sacrifices that all true artists have to make, in order to placate their muses...

Anthony puts forth...

Posted May 14, 2013

You mean all those years of intensive personal research were wasted?

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Blarkon ducks in to say...

Posted May 13, 2013

At least it wasn't like Havock's "Karma Sutra". That's a book that needs a rewrite.

Worth checking out is Nobel laureette Paul Krugman on this series: http://crookedtimber.org/2009/01/27/stross-on-development-economics/

(If I've been reading the tea leaves correctly, the upcoming Neptune's Brood is heavily influenced by Debt: The first 5000 years)

damian mutters...

Posted May 13, 2013

Krugman's NYT blog is often as entertaining as it is edumacational. The chap's got an understated writing style that often slips some real zingers into superficially modest words. Not sure about his fascination with Arcade Fire though - they always seem to me like a great musical idea that doesn't quite work in practice.

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S.M. Stirling asserts...

Posted May 14, 2013

My first novel, in 1984 (really) was a fantasy because the editor said my original post-apocalyptic setting "needed magic".

OK, at that point I would have pulled myself to New York by my lips, naked, over broken glass. In goes an evil shaman and 10,000 extra words.

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