A great review of They Promised Me the Gun Wasn’t Loaded at Speculating Canada! And by the way, if you’ve never checked out Speculating Canada, it’s well worth looking at—a lot of insightful reviews of a lot of great books.
FYI: The Aurora Awards are given out annually for the best speculative fiction work written by a Canadian. I’ve won Best Short Fiction twice, but never Best Novel.
Also FYI: Any Canadian can vote on the award. For details, see the Aurora Award web site.
They Promised Me The Gun Wasn’t Loaded is now available everywhere! I’ve been doing publicity stuff for the past little bit, including appearing at places like the World Fantasy convention…but I’m back and will start blogging again soon.
I’ll also be doing some guest blog appearances at other sites. More on that when the blogs appear. In the meantime, you can listen to me talk about the new book and a great deal else at Invaders from Planet 3, a podcast hosted by Robin Shantz. I had a lot of fun recording the session, and Robin asked a lot of great questions. I hope you’ll give it a listen.
By the way, a number of people have asked how they can support my books (besides buying a gazillion copies, of course). If you like my books, or the books of any other author, you can support them by posting reviews on Amazon as well as other book-related sites like GoodReads.
Just ranking books is good (e.g. giving a book 5 stars) but verbal reviews are even better. Such reviews don’t have to be long—even 10 words will make a difference—but verbal reviews really make an impression on the automatic algorithms that decide whether or not to recommend a book to other people.
So online reviews would be great…for my books or for the books of any author you like. Thanks!
My next book, They Promised Me The Gun Wasn’t Loaded, comes out one week from now (i.e. on November 6)! So maybe I should talk about it.
First, I should emphasize it’s a standalone book. Yes, it’s a sequel to All Those Explosions Were Someone Else’s Fault, but it has its own beginning, middle and end. You don’t have to have read the first book, and I promise there won’t be a cliffhanger. A few ongoing threads are left to continue into future books of the series, but hey, that’s life. If I tied off every little problem by the final page, it wouldn’t be realistic.
So what’s the book about? In All Those Explosions, four science students at the University of Waterloo gain superpowers. As a result, stuff blows up, other stuff burns down, and maybe something bad happens to some rats.
But the heart of the book is one of the students dealing with personal baggage. Because here’s the thing: I think a novel should be about a pivotal moment in someone’s life. Someone should find themselves facing a situation that could take their life in new directions. What does that person actually choose? And then what happens because of their choice?
Explosions centers on one of the students, Kim Lam. Read the book and find out how gaining superpowers affects Kim’s life.
The new book, Gun, starts ten days after the end of Explosions. The action centers on Jools, a slightly self-sabotaging biology student. Before becoming super, Jools was in danger of flunking out from university. Now, however, her powers make her human-best at everything. She’s as strong as the best Olympic weight-lifter, as fast as the best Olympic sprinter, as medically skilled as the world’s best surgeon, and so on. She’s not superhumanly strong, fast, intelligent, etc., so she’s not going to win an arm-wrestling match with someone who has truly super muscles. However, she’s still as good as any human anywhere on anything.
What happens when a screw-up gets that kind of power? What happens when you used to be lost in all your classes, but now you know more than your professors? What happens when you’re suddenly really amazingly smart, but still in the habit of thinking you’re a dunce?
That’s the emotional heart of the story. Also there’s a supervillain’s gun (maybe) that many people want to steal, including the supervillain himself and a gang of outlaws modeled on Robin Hood and his men. Plus a bunch more explosions, killer wasps, a great train robbery, jellyfish underwear, and maybe dropping Sherwood Forest on top of Waterloo.
If that sounds interesting, I hope you’ll preorder the book from any of the standard online sites or your favorite bricks-and-mortar store. Thanks, and I hope you enjoy it!
Once I have the keel of a book, it’s time to build the story around it. I do that with a sequence of set-pieces.
In Hollywood, a set-piece is a block of action: a car chase perhaps, or a meet cute (where two people who will eventually become lovers meet in an unusual way, often leading to an initial clash of personalities). But when I’m writing, I use the term more loosely. I think of a set-piece as a sequence of one or more scenes that all take place in the same general setting.
For example, the initial set-piece for They Promised Me The Gun Wasn’t Loaded is a block of scenes all taking place at Waterloo Regional Airport. In the final version of the book, the lead character (named Jools) moves between various places in the airport—from a plane to the tarmac, to a luxury lounge, to a baggage handling area, then back to the lounge—but my initial plan for the book just said AIRPORT.
My plan also had a list of things that should take place at the airport. I wanted to introduce Jools and her world for people who hadn’t read Book 1, and to demonstrate various aspects of her character and her abilities. I also wanted to introduce several new characters, re-introduce old ones, and hint at major players in the action to come. I definitely wanted to show the super-weapon that everyone will be fighting over throughout the book (as specified in the keel). Finally, I wanted a superpowered fight that would cause mega-damage, because what’s the point of writing about superheroes without mass destruction?
My initial plan didn’t have a lot of detail or a through-line of the action. It was just a list, pretty much unsorted, of people and points that should be covered before Jools left the airport. The list included a lot of cool stuff I might throw in (as generated during brainstorming). However, I didn’t cast anything in stone, and there was quite a lot of hand-waving.
For example, the book features a modern day Robin Hood and his gang: they may be villains or not, but they want their hands on the super-weapon. So my plan called for one of Robin’s gang to appear at the airport and try to steal the weapon. However, I didn’t bother deciding what the would-be thief was like. I could come up with that later. Maybe some other set-piece would require a particular type of “Merry Man” and I could backfill the same character into the airport action. Or I could leave things undecided and dream up someone entertaining during the actual writing.
I like to leave openings like that in my plans. If I nail down too much in advance, writing the book becomes boring and forced.
So the first set-piece was AIRPORT. I continued on with the other set-pieces of the book, each placed in a different setting, to ensure an appropriate degree of variety during the course of the novel. (Other set-pieces included UNIVERSITY LAB, MEMORIAL SERVICE, and several different blocks of action in SHERWOOD FOREST. Read the book and find out how it all goes together!)
But let me point out that my initial plans for set-pieces are mainly external. For each set-piece I want a setting, a few plot elements, and which characters may be present. But I don’t think about the internal aspects of characters. I leave that for the next phase of planning: establishing character development arcs. I’ll talk about those next time.
[The photo of the airport and airplane is of RGIA Airport in Hyderabad, India. It was taken by Abhinay6597 [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0%5D, from Wikimedia Commons. It is definitely not Waterloo Regional Airport.]
Continuing my series on How I Write…
Brainstorming gives me a long list of stuff that I could put into a particular book: possible ideas, images, characters, plot elements, etc. but all just written down scattershot, without any effort to turn them into anything coherent. Once I have that, it’s time to come up with a keel. (By the way, this is my own terminology, but I wouldn’t be surprised if someone else came up with it before I did.)
In a boat, the keel is something heavy attached to the bottom of the hull. It’s the heaviest part of the boat; in rough seas, the keel is heavy enough that it keeps sinking downward, and that’s what keeps the ship upright. (In the picture above, the keel is #5.)
In a story, the keel is what gives the story weight and keeps the narrative from flopping over whenever the going gets rough. The keel is related to theme (i.e. what makes your story matter). It’s also related to plot: it lies at the heart of the story’s actions. It’s the part of the story you consider indispensable. As you write the story, everything else is subject to change, but the keel is going to stay. It’s what makes your story what it is.
(At this point, contrarians may ask, “But what if you decide that the keel really needs to change?” Since you’re the writer, you can do anything you want…but if you change the keel, you simply aren’t writing the same story anymore. The keel of Romeo & Juliet is “star-crossed lovers who die”. You can write a version where one or both lovers survive, but at that point, it’s stopped being Shakespeare’s story.)
The purpose of a keel is to provide stability and a sense of purpose. If and when I lose sight of what the heck I’m doing in a book, I come back to the keel. “This is what the book is about. This is what holds the book together. This is what I don’t want to lose.” The keel should be weighty enough and engaging enough to make writing the book worth my time.
So let’s talk about my forthcoming book, They Promised Me The Gun Wasn’t Loaded. It’s a sequel to All Those Explosions Were Someone Else’s Fault, and I wanted GUN to take place shortly after EXPLOSIONS. I brainstormed a lot of cool things I could do in the world I’d created, including superhero hi-jinks, new things to do with the Darkling monsters who run everything, buildings I could smash in the Waterloo Region, and so on. I also brainstormed ways in which the characters could develop, themes I might explore, tropes to use or avoid, etc., etc.
After two days of idea generation, I had a huge list of possibilities. Then it was time to come up with a keel. Here’s what it was.
- The new book would center on Jools, who was a central character in the previous book, but not the main protagonist.
- It would deal with her drinking problem, which would be matched by a growing tendency to go into uncontrollable bouts of inventing weird devices.
In other words, her alcohol addiction would start running in parallel with the possibility of becoming an out-of-control supervillain inventor.
- Finally, the action would center around a weapon created by a serious supervillain, as Darklings and various super-types all tried to claim the weapon for their own.
I’m hiding some things here since I don’t want to give major spoilers for the book—for example, my real keel contained stuff about the book’s ending. But the points above give you the idea. They were my “rules” for the book: the keel that wouldn’t change, no matter what. Dealing with addiction made the book more than lightweight fluff…but dealing with everyone chasing a superweapon guaranteed plenty of opportunities for action.
Whether or not you write with an outline or by the seat of your pants, having some kind of keel is crucial. Next time, I’ll talk about what you do once you have a keel in place.
[Ship diagram by Jimmy P. Renzi (Public domain), via Wikimedia Commons]
I’m gearing up for the release of They Promised Me The Gun Wasn’t Loaded, scheduled to be published on November 6 (2018). Between now and then, I’ll be doing publicity here on the web site and at other sites too. I’ll also be visiting a few science fiction/fantasy conventions to make sure people know the book is coming.
The first convention I’ll attend is this weekend: VCON in Vancouver BC, Oct 5-7, 2018. I’ll be doing a number of panels and two readings, as well as the usual meet-and-greeting. If you happen to be in the neighborhood, drop by!
Next weekend I’ll be in Ottawa ON at Can-Con, Oct 12-14. I’ll be on a number of panels there too, and I’m always happy to chat with anyone who shows up.
After that I’ll be at the World Fantasy Convention in Baltimore MD, Nov 1-4. I’m hoping to have some advanced copies of THEY PROMISED ME that I can give away, but that hasn’t been finalized yet.
In the meantime, if any of you have any questions about the new book, feel free to drop me a line in the comments. I confess that I never know what to say when a new book comes out, so direct questions will make my life easier.
By the way, if you’re interested in the book at all, pre-order it! It’s available from the usual online sites and from bricks-and-mortar book stores (including independent book stores which are always worth supporting). Advance orders are super important for a book’s success. Amongst other things, advance orders have a huge effect on Amazon recommendations. This is true for all books…so if you want to support an author, it’s an enormous help if you pre-order their books.