Sep 15, 2010

You Can't Always Get What You Want

And if you try sometime, you ... still won't get what you want.

As productive and successful as your favorite word machine may be, they most likely are not literally a word machine (except for Brandon Sanderson, he bleeds oil, not sure what that is about). For the most part, authors are artistic creatures subject to all the risks of the creative life - project apathy, writer's block, the need to consume calories with the intention of continued existence. For whatever reason, authors decide to move on to other projects. It happens.

But in the age of internet immediacy, it's not a surprise to learn about a novel in its infancy, long before the first draft is finished and sometimes before a contract is even signed. If you hang around on Twitter enough, you might also witness a project's conception from an orgy of 140-character ideas. Writing a 250,000 word novel doesn't happen overnight, blog updates are expected on a semi-frequent basis. What do you think the authors are going to end up talking about?

As such, it's possible and even probable that you will get attached to the promise of a story long before you ever see a word of it. It doesn't help that the people who are reading about these prospective projects are also the people who admire an author's work enough to rifle through the garbage of the internet for mere scraps of news. What's the chance that those people ( people) get excited for a new book before the actually buy it?

But as the adage goes (sort of), not every egg does a chicken hatch. Novels don't sell, contracts fall through, publishers drop series, half finished manuscripts are shelved in favor of the new hot thing.

Compounding this problem is the fact that the situations that put a project into a literary limbo are often not of the variety that inspire detailed updates. As such, these projects can disappear quicker than Sprinkles the Hamster after your family went to Disney World, leaving rabid fanchildren with little to no explanation as to why they will never get to read the book that got them so excited. Even worse, sometimes authors pour salt on the wound by suggesting that they will take the book of the shelf "in a year or two" or "after they finish some other work."

Now, I am by no means arguing that the authors owe their readers every project they start or propose. Or that they should be required to finish something that they have no more interest in. Or that they even owe us an explanation of a situation that is often complicated, sometimes painful, or unsurprisingly both.

Consider this a lamentation for the loss of the potential project. That notion of a novel  that never amounted to anything more more than a few words buried in the archived blogposts of your favorite author.

For me, the most painful of these abandoned books is undoubtedly John Scalzi's The High Castle. It's predecessor, The Android's Dream was published by Tor in 2006 and somehow ended up flying under most radars. Maybe it was dismissed as an aside from Scalzi's flagship Old Man's War series, maybe the fantastic cover art was too unique to connect with that part of the reader's brain that loves spaceships, swords, and tramp stamps - who knows? It was science fiction in the vein of Douglas Adams, the kind that is simultaneously hilarious and unputdownable. (Unputdownable is a word in the way that pineapple isn't). And the best part? There was going to be more!

Until there wasn't.

I've been following Whatever for years. John still mentions The Novel That Could Have Been from time to time. It just reminds me of what could have been. Sadly, there is no more concrete information than there was three or four years ago. Maybe one of these times, "next year" will actually see the book committed to paper.

For all those readers who got excited about a project that didn't ever materialize, here's hoping.

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