Journal Entry #9

December 30, 2007

Sam Weller was in town recently and left me a copy of his Ray Bradbury biography, The Bradbury Chronicles. I've been a fan since I was about twelve and sat outside my house in South Philadelphia on summer evenings reading the Mars stories. Fell in love with his work and never recovered. The biography felt like a chance to go back and revisit. Recommended.

Along with the Weller book, I'm reading Jane Eyre. (Still trying to catch up on my college reading list.) Women had a difficult time in 19th century Britain. As did orphans. It's a powerhouse. I can't help noticing that Charlotte Bronte puts indirect quotations inside quotation marks. I don't recall seeing that in other books of the period. Or maybe I just missed it. Is there anyone out there who knows about such things?

One of the special aspects of this time of year is getting to talk with friends we haven't seen in a while. I had a conversation with Lew Shiner, whom I first met at the Sycamore Hill workshop almost twenty years ago. I was just finishing A Talent for War and I showed him the climax, in which Alex Benedict has encountered an Ashiyyurean warship. They've just tried to kill him, but they are now helpless and in his sights.

In my original version, Alex moves in and fires on them. Destroys the ship. Lew sighed and said Don't do it. Why not? Because it's automatic. It's reflexive. It's what everybody does. What does he gain by killing everybody on board? I thought, well, it's what the reader expects. "That's why it doesn't work," he said. "That's why it's flat. You want to make this guy human? Have him give them a break."

Thank you, Lew. It was one of the defining moments for Alex.

On the subject of series characters, of whom Alex of course is one, I've also learned not to be so quick announcing that this or that is the final book in a series. I've gotten some loud objections about ending the Academy novels with Cauldron. The reason you do a continuing series is so you don't have to start over every time you write a book about, say, a starship. If each narrative occurs in a different universe, you are forever trying to figure out a new name for the star drive, and explaining again the rate of acceleration, and another name for the space station. And so on. And readers come to feel comfortable with characters they know.

So, if a story line fits within a given milieu, it make sense to go with the continuing characters. This is not to say there'll be more Academy novels, but simply to admit that, given the right idea, I'd be happy to go back.

Books that arrived for Christmas:

  • Boom!, Tom Brokaw
  • The Republican War on Science, Chris Mooney
  • A Short History of Nearly Everything, Bill Bryson
  • The Death of the Grown-Up, Diana West
  • The Puzzle Palace, James Bamford
  • The Greatest Story Ever Sold, Frank Rich

— Jack

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