How long from Idea to Novel?

Saturday, May 28, 2011

As I sit here doing revisions on Arclight (read: procrastinate), I started thinking of blog post material (Yes, I'll get back to the ABC's... eventually.) So, to continue on with the current dance fest from getting an agent, I thought I'd tell you something about the process that surprised me.

Every single agent I spoke with asked me the same question: Where did you get the idea for the novel?

It's a generic and obvious question, but it was still one I never considered being asked. (I don't know why; I stopped trying to make sense out of my brain a long time ago. Life's happier that way.)

They also all had very near the same reaction to my answer - surprise.

You see, I wrote Arclight when I was 17 (18?).

Way back when I had just gotten my very first computer, this idea bloomed that I wanted to be a screenwriter. So, shiny new computer on desk and screenwriting software in the optical drive, I hammered out four screenplays. (Three and 1/2 but I won't tell if you won't.)

Untouchable was a contemporary soft sci-fi story about people on the run from a gov't agency because they had all been bio-engineered as poison carriers. They could make people sick or even kill with a touch. The organization's crowning achievement was a little girl meant to be the "perfect" assassin, so the only one of the test subject who had yet to "trigger" (become lethal) ran with her. They got picked up on the highway by a trucker who thought they were running from an abusive father and taken to his friend who ran a battered women's shelter. The other subjects committed mass suicide rather than allow themselves to be used as weapons and the agency was left with no option but to pursue this little girl cross country.

Kat Burglars; Inc. was a sort Alias meets Heathers with a cast of characters who had names which were all variations on "Katherine". Katherine, Kitty, Katie, Kate and Katya. They were a mod squad sort of group who had been retired and were having to come back together after the death of one of their members put their current assumed lives in danger. It was what I think Charlie's Angels would be if it was a more serious story rather than slapstick.

Echo, which I swear I'm going to novelize one of these days, was another contemporary sci-fi, but based around time travel. It was also a murder mystery and ghost story unlike any you've ever seen. I'm being vague on purpose, because I don't want to give the twists away if I do get to novelize it... maybe NaNo this year.

And then there was Ouroboros, the screenplay that would become Arclight.

At its inception, Ouroboros (the name of the spaceship where the story was set) was a space opera built around the conceit that aliens exists and had been cooperating with humans for decades while the general population was unaware. There were twin space stations - one in the desert (Gaia) and one on the moon (Luna). The people who lived on Luna had never been on earth and had a sort of inborn prejudice against "EB's" or the "Earth Bound". It was very much not a YA story, with all the characters being adults, and ironically the character who knew the most in Ouroboros became the girl who knows nothing in Arclight. I *loved* this story; I even wrote two sequels, the second of which has sadly disappeared from existence as far as I can tell.

I even designed the aliens and their culture and their socio-economic climate, and about a dozen other things that normal 17-18 year old girls weren't doing.

Then the reality of having people in the family who needed constant care set in. I put the screenplays (and the horrendous 130 some-odd page MG story I'd written) away and decided they were dreams rather than reality.

Fast forward a few years to 2007-2008 when I wrote a vampire novel. I didn't know vampires had hit HUGE. I didn't even know Twilight was about vampires until the first movie spots aired. I've had a softspot for vampires since I was a kid, so it was only natural that my first "real" book be about bloodsuckers.

I polished, I queried, I got numerous requests. I even did a revise/resubmit, but realized that 1 - the market was bloated and 2 - my heart wasn't in it the way it should have been. So, I scrapped vampires and thought "Ah ha! No one's writing zombies..."

I hammered out a bit of what would become Arclight and let someone see the opening. They said "This sounds like The Forest of Hands and Teeth".

I was crushed. I had just starting hearing that there was a new zombie book due to come out soon, but I refused to read it for fear of being influenced by it.

It was very tempting to just pack it in and give up there. But then I remembered those screenplays I had stuck in the metaphorical drawer way back when. I located (on floppy disk, no less) the files I had saved, bought a floppy reader to plug into my computer and discovered that I had lost very little data to storage for so long. After transferring every floppy file I could find, I began strip-mining bits of Ouroboros and bits of the zombie book and melding them together into what would become Arclight. Which leaves me with a darkish and pleasantly creepy sci-fi story for Young Adults.

So, how long does it take to go from Idea to Novel? If my idea was a child it would be a moody teenager about now. :-P

The vampire book took less than three months.

And that, my friends, is the point. There is no answer to that question other than the one specific to the book you're currently writing. Ouroboros took me maybe a week. The zombie book was into about it's second or third month when I shifted gears. The mash-up took about a year, if I remove the six months life butted in and I didn't write a word.

(I do believe this may be the world record for saying "it depends".)

3 Chiming In:

angie Brooksby-Arcangioli said...

I love your writing, even your blog posts are so captivating. I can't wait to read your first published work.

Candace said...

Very interesting to see where your ideas come from and hear about your "process". I love hearing about that sort of thing from other writers.

Jake Hull said...

Just wanted to say...I appreciate this post. Also, I saw the query example on QueryShark for Premeditated.

Hell yeah.

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