Tim’s Sunday Quickie: Undead Fiction

Today’s topic is failed stories. There are many dead novels in my past, but I’ll write about the one I attempted to re-animate, Herbert West style, and which became a lumbering shambling horror with bits falling off…

Back in 2000 I tried to write a novel about my character Marla Mason, who had appeared in a couple of short stories (and who stars in my current urban fantasy series). That first attempt was called Ferocious Dreamers, and it had a nightmare king and a crazy psychic who infected people with a supernatural sleeping sickness. I worked on it diligently. At around the 55,000 word point I finally gave up on it, because it had gone completely off the rails, made no sense, had no discernible plot anymore, had characters who acted wildly out-of-character, and wasn’t even fun anymore. I trunked it hard.

Years later I sold my novel Blood Engines, and when my agent asked me to come up with a sequel I thought back to that earlier novel. I still like the idea, and I thought — clever me — “It’s 55,000 words long, and I can probably salvage a lot of the scenes, and, thus, save myself time in writing Book 2. Am a genius!”

Hoo boy what a mistake. I spent probably a month wrestling with that mass of hideous misshapen pages, shocking it with the electricity of new enthusiasm, performing radical surgery, grafting new scenes onto old ones, and etc. The result was a putrid dog’s breakfast. Eventually, I had the good sense to throw every one of those pages away — it was probably a total of 70,000 wasted words by then — and start over with a fresh, from scratch, page-one rewrite. The basic idea of a plague of nightmares and a mad psychic survived… but almost nothing else did. That book became my novel Poison Sleep, which I’m quite proud of, but which bears little resemblance to Ferocious Dreamers… and which took me a lot longer to write than it should have.

Sometimes it’s best to let dead things lie.

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