Sunday, March 25, 2012

So...

A man walks into a book.

My book, actually. Last time it happened, it was about thirty four, thirty five books ago, and the man's name was Lijah Cuu.

I've told this story at con panels and in interviews SEVERAL times before, so I'll excuse the stifled yawns at the back. For those who haven't heard it, I'll keep the facts brief: it was writing the fourth Gaunt novel ("Honour Guard") and it was nearly done, and my computer died, ingesting the MS in its violent death throes. That was the day I learned to back up.

Not wishing to miss the print deadline, I had to rewrite the book from scratch, from memory, in a month. And I did. It should have been a disaster, but it wasn't: somehow, writing it from the memory of the first draft freed me up. It was as though it was a performance I'd rehearsed. The month went by in a blur: I was producing words at a frenzied rate, a white heat of creativity. I wasn't even thinking about it - it was almost an automatic writing exercise.

Anyway, the end product - the published version - was much better than the first. In fact, it's amongst my fave Gaunt books. It was also different to the first, lost draft. New characters had appeared in it, even though I had been diligently following the same plot outline. Maybe the spontaneous new characters and side-plots were part of an unconscious effort on my part to keep the rewrite fresh. All I know is, when these new characters turned up, they came as I surprise. I hadn't invited them. They'd just barged their way into the book, and refused to leave. I was under too much pressure to argue with them, and write them back out again, so I left them alone.

One of them was Lijah Cuu. For Gaunt aficionados, the notion that Cuu appeared by accident seems unlikely. He's such a major character, and continues to be the point man for a major plot line for the next few books. He also [does several notorious things that I won't mention as spoilers]. How could I have.... improvised him?

The way I look at it, Cuu was such a fully formed character, I had no choice in the process. I regard it as emblematic of his force and malevolence as a character. And, yes folks, I know it sounds like preposterous bollocks* when an author talks about one of their characters as having a life of their own. Trust me, you didn't have to share an office and head-space with the mad fether for several years.

Anyway, I mention it this sunday morning (I'm in a slightly baffled state, akin to minor jet-lag, because the clocks went forward last night, but I still insisted on getting up at my normal Stupid Early O'clock: the state reminds me of the way I felt during Honour Guard, which is probably what reminded me), because it just happened again.

No. Relax. I didn't lose a book. These days, my back up processes are automatic and have multiple levels of redundancy. But Pariah (which is the first of the Bequin Triology, aka the first part of the final Inquisitor trilogy, aka Eisenhorn Versus Ravenor 1: This Time It's Shooty) is a very (deliciously) creative process. As I mentioned in the blog yesterday (yesterday, eh? Get me!), novels right now are much more prepared and planned than they used to be. I fill notebooks with notes and maps, sketch things out, even write chunks of text about characters for later use (I barely recognise myself!). I'm now in the frenzied writing stage, and was slightly delighted when an unplanned, unscripted event occurred. A man walked into the book. I was mainly slightly delighted, I guess, because it seems like a flash of the good old, bad old days, the old creative process (which I glorify with the name process, but which was really just a case of forcing everything into a small space and then yelling 'bundle!'). It was a glimpse of the pre-Adventures In Epilepsy me, coming into my office, messing up my notes, stealing my glasses, and weeing in my vase, as if to say "Yeah! Deal with that, motherfether".

And I'm also delighted, because I know what happened last time. I don't know who he is yet. He's just looking at me funny and not saying much.

But, just in case, I'm going to warn Bequin.



* Actual literary term.


16 comments:

Will Wright said...

Zing
I love when that happens,I cannot tell you how many of my very best models happened by accident.
That is the Glory of Chaos at work ;)
And judging by my hobby desk I am a true disiple of Chaos :(

Chris Meyer said...

That IS strange. Lijah Cuu was such a linchpin in the story, killing certain people that we would never see again.

And a little creepy that he was improvised. What else is in Mr. Dan Abentt's brain? lol

Jon said...

Awesome story (really IS strange) and awesome news :) Planning is good, but I've always believed the essence of creativity also lies in spontaneity/constraints. So don't over think ;) It's great when what you (or someone else) create(s) comes alive. And good luck!

*Creativity and constraints:
http://vimeo.com/26260584

Nicholas Nolan said...

I, for one, am happy that this is happening a second time. As much as I hated Cuu for the bad things the dirty little fether he is, he made me realise something. You, Mr. Abnett, made me care. I'm sure that I've cared about fictional characters before. Just as I'm sure to again. Sure as sure. But this was the first time I've been consciense of the fact that I cared. I shot a tweet to @VincentAbnett a couple of weeks ago, whining about you making me blubber slightly over the events at the end of Blood Pact. And I appreciate your works all the more for it. I look forward to another unlikely figure in one of your novels causing that sort of reaction again.

Nicholas Nolan said...

I, for one, am happy that this is happening a second time. As much as I hated Cuu for the bad things the dirty little fether he is, he made me realise something. You, Mr. Abnett, made me care. I'm sure that I've cared about fictional characters before. Just as I'm sure to again. Sure as sure. But this was the first time I've been consciense of the fact that I cared. I shot a tweet to @VincentAbnett a couple of weeks ago, whining about you making me blubber slightly over the events at the end of Blood Pact. And I appreciate your works all the more for it. I look forward to another unlikely figure in one of your novels causing that sort of reaction again.

Nicholas Nolan said...

Fething double post...

Josh said...

Dan, the idea that the character just emerges and dominates isn't that hard to swallow.

Look at Stoker. The guy's prose and narrative structure was all thumbs at best, but Dracula picked that novel up and carried it and Stoker. Granted, Dracula didn't "walk into the book" as Cuu did, but this was a character whose personality and actions literally usurped the writer--in Stoker's case, taking what is otherwise poorly written and defining a genre or two, and in your case providing a seriously fundamental shift in not only the story arcs he impacted, but also your understanding of just what it is to be a Ghost in general. I mean, sure, Rawne was Rawne, and there were petty little misdemeanors and defects of character in previous outings with the Tanith 1st, but we'd never considered the idea of a Ghost like Lijah Cuu. It wasn't in keeping with the notion of what the Ghosts were to that point, and set a tremendous counterpoint in the greater scope of the series that I think you're still riding out the shockwaves of even today.

Cuu didn't just mean there could be bad Ghosts; he made the Ghosts even more human than they already were. Aside from all the other Very Bad Things he ended up doing once you didn't boot him out of to the swinging gate when he availed himself to your vase.

Just my take, but I think Cuu not only did spring full-formed from the frenzied brow of your subconscious, but the guy actually was something required--a necessary evil, you might say--for the series going forward.

Bigyin said...

What I loved about Cuu was I know sometimes writers feel obliged to kill off major or semi important characters in novels, especially a series running as long as The Ghosts to create tension for the reader. When this is done badly you kind of expect who its going to be ( ala Star Trek, hey if they are a Guest Star they are being killed). What Cuu created was a sense of anyone was fair game, main characters could die, it didnt have to be heroic it could just be plain tragic. Robbing us of further development that was their in order to keep the suspense of the series as a whole. Infact the only novel since where I have felt any character was fair game was Only in Death, which I think is one of the finest combinations of Horror and Sci-fi.

Unknown said...

Dan, I've always got the impression that you write at speed. That's not intended as a criticism, by the way, it's a compliment!

Whenever I write anything I plod away at it, reviewing each sentence, striving to avoid repetition, typoos, repetition, rambling, overlong lists, repetition and repetition. And although that degree of contemporaneous self-editing does stop some of my worse habits, it hampers and impedes my flow. It's writing by word count, a very bad habit of mine.

Your work has FLOW. It flows like the (insert name of favourite large river. The Danube, maybe.)And that's a good thing. It suits the "military sci fi" genre. Your style comes across as a contrast to the meticulous, carefully weighted style of someone like Matt Farrer, another of my favourite 40k writers, who one senses probably writes at a far slower pace than you do.

Again, I'm not criticising here: I'm comparing two good writers with what I perceive to be different approaches.

In a way, your style reminds me a bit of Ian Fleming's. He was famous for writing at speed, knocking out a couple of thousand words every morning before retiring to the pool for cocktails. Which is what I try to do, just without the cocktails. Or pool. Or word count.

It's interesting to hear the level of planning that's going into Pariah. I am EXTREMELY excited about this book...

Anonymous said...

So excited for the new Bequin trilogy. Eisenhorn and Ravenor are hands down my favourite set of 40K books.

Jonathan Green said...

Two blogs in two days? Steady on old chap.

Also - good news! Cannot wait!

Glen Brown said...

I hope the Pariah trilogy is not the last time you write about a inquisitor.

Marc Chiarini said...

Reminds me a bit of the software engineering process a la Frederick Brooks: build it from scratch to see how your mind works and throw it away; build it again to work out the bugs and throw that away too; build it a third time and you should have a pretty stable piece of software!

Alas, if Dan did this, we'd see a novel only every few years...

Anonymous said...

Thank you Mr Abnett. I really have missed Ravenor and Eisenhorn, my copies ( both singles and anthologies ) are now not so much dog eared as mutant maneating wirewolf eared. More inquisitor flavoured goodness is superlative news!

Trish Short Lewis said...

In losing your manuscript, you joined a small but illustrious club, including T. E. Lawrence. I'm glad you were able to rewrite it...

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