5/18/2005

Years and years and years ago, a guy from GSFWC called Fergus Bannon wrote a book called Judgement and mailed it to an agent, maybe two agents, or maybe it was an agent and a publisher. Whatever. Couple of weeks later the manuscript comes back with one of those 'thanks, but we'll skip it' notes tucked inside, so Fergus tucks it back in a drawer.

Fifteen years pass.

Now, this is not unusual. There's a lot of people who do this kind of thing - spend a year writing a novel: researching it: redrafting it: then they send it out. And when it gets rejected a couple of times, or maybe even only once, what they do is stick it in a drawer and forget about it. In some cases, this isn't necessarily a bad thing, since often the manuscript isn't anything great. The mark of a real writer of course, is when you go and write another, anyway. And if that doesn't sell, you write another. And another. And keep going until eventually - hopefully - you sell.

This, of course, isn't what most people do. Writing a book then forgetting about it, regardless of its intrinsic merits and demerits, is probably very common indeed. About ten years ago I got a copy of Judgement from Fergus and read through it. I really liked it. At this time, Fergus had had a couple of professional sales under his belt, including a story called 'Burning Brightly' in Interzone, which perfectly encapsulated his less than optimistic view of the world: so it wasn't like he was a total beginner.

There was one big problem with Fergus's book, though. It was set before the fall of the Soviet Union, and in certain respects was very political. It also had scenes set in Apartheid South Africa. Then the USSR went down in flames, along with Apartheid. Oops. Maybe not so surprising it got stuffed in a drawer, then.

Except when I read the book, I realised that the vast majority of the 'political' scenes existed primarily as 'intercut' scenes focusing on events that reflected on the theme of the book without necessarily involving the actual central plot too deeply at all. I was sure there was a way to fix these.

We talked about it and Fergus was up for it - except I'd have to be the one doing the edits: Fergus' day job - and I'm not allowed to say what it is - is one of considerable responsibility, and his life's moved on since his writing days enough so that there's not a chance in hell he's either going to have the time or - any longer - the inclination. But I felt the book really, really deserved some kind of a chance. It seemed like a damn shame for it to just disappear into a drawer and be forgotten about. I figured I could screw around with it (with permission granted) and fix those scenes that locked it into past events: and it sure as hell wasn't the kind of (hard sf) book that could function as historical fiction.

Except then I got a book deal and time was very, very limited. But I've just finished off some work and realised I had some spare time and, over the past couple of weeks, took the opportunity to go through the thing and make some fast edits. I'm hoping - really hoping - this'll be enough, although I figure I probably need to dive in there a couple more times and jazz up the detail, research wise.

Then I'll probably pass it around to a couple of people and see what they think.
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