The most important part of the journey of becoming a writer is the actual writing. Until you’ve finished your story you haven’t constructed the vessel you need to set sail onto the sea of publishing. And once the ship is built and you’ve set sail, there are things about navigating your across that great ocean that you could never imagine happening until they do.
A big part of the canvas I created with the series was giving myself the first book to set things up in a more or less straightforward comic-book style with the heroes and villains all motivated with easy moral choices. Yes, I revealed the corruption and mixed motivations, but the intention was to allow my characters to twirl their mustaches in a way that only the Victorians can.
But even as I was telling a more straightforward story, I always had a deeper plan in mind. As the series went along I’d be taking my characters from a world of black and white, into one that had many shades of gray. I would undermine those black and white assumptions for both my heroes and the reader. It was (he said, rubbing his hands togeher) a perfect plan, except for one tiny flaw…
It simply had never occurred to me that when you put your first novel in the world, it means that no one has any idea what your intentions are. And so, while the book got many good reviews, there were a lot of caveats about the fact that my plotting was “straightforward” and that my “video game roots” were clearly showing. In retrospect it meant that I’d done what I’d set out to do. It just hadn’t occurred to me how well I’d done it.
A novel isn’t a blog post. A smart writer doesn’t respond to his critics, and he can’t publish a retraction the next day. And as a professional writer you quickly learn to handle rough seas or get thrown overboard.
Honestly, if you’re lucky enough to get published you want strong reactions. Some readers will love you and others wil hate you. But when they misunderstood me it was incredibly difficult trying to explain to people just how cool things the next two books were going to be. I wanted to let them know that not only would I be dealing with all their complaints but that I was going to blow their minds. Instead, I not only had to wait 9 months for the second book to come before people could even get an inkling of where things were going, I had to write the third one and then wait for that to come out. It’s a unique kind of torture.
Now that the Power Under Pressure is finally out in the world, and the trilogy is complete I’ve gotten to tell the full story. As the reviews have started to trickle in I’ve been gratified to see that, taken as a whole, the revelation of the setups and mysteries that I put into my first book as a contrast to the dark journey I knew I’d be taking the character’s through is finally paying off with readers. Despite my worst fears, I may have actually managed to stick the landing after all.
Was it worth it? Hopefully going forward I won’t have to earn the trust of my audience all over again, But I’m always coming up with new ways to outsmart myself in the name of entertainment. Despite my telling people that I’d never start my career with a trilogy again, I’m beginning to wonder if that kind of naiveté is a gift that every author gets only once. And maybe it’s something everyone lucky enough to get published just needs to find out for themselves.