Friday, June 27, 2014

On the writing of Single White Necromancer

CFC asked me how long Single White Necromancer took to write, and I told him it was about a year, and also that I'd reply in greater detail in a post, so that's what I'm doing here.

I couldn't even estimate a number of hours spent on it. The Word file the contains the final draft says 1080 minutes of editing time, except, I would often work on the story when I was away from my computer, and would write a bit, email it to myself and then paste it into the file, so that number doesn't come close to answering the question.

The best answer I can give is that it was written in fits and starts over the course of a year. I thought of the title first, which is unusual for me, as it's usually the very last thing I come up with, occasionally well after the story is written. I think it's the perfect title for the story, and a lot of the elements present spin out of that.

It started out as a Lonesome October story that I intended for the Lovecraftzine's Lonesome October issue, but it was already over 12000 words (and growing) and it that it was just too long to be feasible. That was June or July 2013. So I shelved it and wrote something else for the zine. That turned out to be Mother of Monsters.

There is a Roger Zelazny tribute anthology in the works. I submitted a Roadmarks story to it, but it's so specifically a Roadmarks story that there is no way to rework it into something else without rewriting the thing entirely. Too many plot points hinged on too many elements specific to the setting, leaving me with an unsellable story, as I don't own the rights and it's not like I can just resubmit it to the other Roger Zelazny tribute anthology in town.

I learned my lesson from that, and kept the story somewhat modular, in that, if I had to remove the ANITLO elements, I could do it without breaking the story.  That's what I did when I returned to it at the beginning of this year. So, while it certainly shows its pedigree, it also works as more general "Crazy Cultists want to open the way for their Mad Gods" story.

That said, Zelazny has been a huge influence on my writing, and there are number of nods to his work in the story, but I don't think it contains any specifically ANITLO elements beyond a broad similarity in the plot. (Another factor he influenced was the length of the piece. It's about 33,000 words. Something I truly enjoy about Zelazny's work is that his stories are only as long as they need to be. I think the novella is the perfect length for telling a story, and that's reflected here.)

I forget who said it, but a professional writer mentioned that he wrote 500 words a day. Some time he only got 500, and other times, what he was writing caught fire, and he got much more than that. I followed those guidelines. I had an ending in March, I shelved it again. Transferred the file to a tablet and did some final editing on a camping trip at the end of May, and poked and prodded it on and off until I finally published it.

However, I think drew more on the atmosphere of Nick Pollatta's Bureau 13 novels than anything written by Zelazny. Funny books, and while absurd, not quite comedy.

All right. More on this later. If anyone has any questions about any aspects of the book, I'm more than happy to answer them here.


  1. Cool. Definitely interesting to learn about other writers' processes. I had no idea you did so much fiction writing, though I suppose it shouldn't surprise me.

    1. It's a fairly recent development. Like any young nerd, I wrote a lot of terrible fiction when I was younger. Then I got into Play By Email Games, which happened to scratch that particular itch for almost ten years.

      I tend to like Jane Lindskold's blog, but not her fiction (not a judgment of merit; just of taste. Her writing happens not to engage me.) I was reading it one day and came upon the single best piece of advice about writing that I've ever seen. If you're a writer, make sure your day job doesn't involve writing.

      Technically, I'm a technical writer. I've held other jobs, but that's how I think of myself. It's almost an entirely different skill set. When I returned to writing fiction, I found it very difficult, as I had become this passive voiced writer who explained everything in absolutely excruciating detail, and who understood that data are plural. (As a Forensic chemistry major, I took a writing class that was populated half by chemistry people and half by "pharmaceutical product development" business people, and you could always tell who was who depending on if they said "the data is" or "the data are".)

      A year or two back, I saw that the Lovecraftzine had a Lonesome October tribute issue. I hadn't written fiction in a long, long time, and didn't even know if I was suited for it any more, but I knew this was one of those things where I felt I had to at least make a try. So, I did, and I happened to wind up writing the kind of story I wanted to read.