When I finished “Fighting Sleep,” I was trying to decide which of my plot bunnies I was going to try and nudge into my next novel (I always have more than one potential novel in the docket, and I imagine they fight when I’m not looking). My first one was actually the idea for a spinoff novel for “Fighting Sleep,” featuring Cameron’s little brother Robbie as one of the leads and based around my own spin on “Snow White.” (It’s still in the queue, I promise.) But that seemed big and complicated, with a lot of research I would have to do, and I’d just gotten through a really technical novel where I had to work out a lot of in-universe magic. I wasn’t looking for another complicated novel.
But another plot bunny right up at the front of the line was a spin on “The Pied Piper of Hamelin.” I’d spent most of my life wondering what on earth the piper had done with all the kids, and since I’m not a horror writer I tried to come up with something quite a bit more hopeful than the story itself suggested. I didn’t have much of a plot yet, but it seemed like a simpler, more streamlined story that would give me a break from having to diagram everything I’d written in three dimensions. At the time, I believe I actually used the word “relaxing.”
Ha. Ha ha, ha ha ha.
The novel that eventually came out of that decision, “Piper’s Song,” is far and away the most difficult, complicated, messy time I’ve had writing a novel in my entire life. I broke the entire thing down to its bare essentials and re-structured it at LEAST four times, and that doesn’t include all the regular editing passes I had to do on the blasted thing. It got to the point where even I forgot sometimes whether a particular plot point or piece of dialogue had happened in the current version of the story, or in one of the 15 previous ones.
And in some of the earliest versions, it was BAD. Not just “not good enough,” but genuinely “this should probably go straight into the garbage” bad. I had three of my usual beta readers taking a look at the thing, and every single one of them was either completely confused or underwhelmed by pretty much everything I was doing. Sensing my distress at seemingly losing whatever shred of writing skill I possessed, each one of them tried to comfort me with (what they didn’t know) was the exact same phrase: “But I really like the characters!”
Which, I well knew, was code for “I don’t like anything else.”
So I tore it all down and started over again. I didn’t even know exactly what went wrong, not at the time, but I went back to the core things I knew about character motivation and coordinating plot and rebuilt the story. Every time I did it I would get a little bit closer, with the final lightbulb finally happening thanks to an unexpected revelation in the middle of an otherwise perfectly normal writing convention (a story for another blog post).
Now that all of that’s behind me, I love “Piper’s Song” desperately (enough to make it the first book in a trilogy, because I’m clinically insane and clearly a masochist). But never again will I announce that I’m going to start writing a particular story because it’s “easy.”
The universe is listening. And it’s got a perverse sense of humor.