Coming back to my Science Fiction novel “PSA” after a solid two months away from it resulted in what I can only term as “culture shock”, something I have to admit I’ve never really experienced within my own work. I’m as much as a SF, Fantasy and horror child as you can get: I’ve been steeped in these genres nearly all my life, marinating in their ideas, methods, styles and terminology for aeyonks.  I’m comfortable flitting from one genre to another, spinning ideas into yarns at the drop of a hat. Many times during my tenure as a video-game writer/content-developer saw me writing proposals, short stories and other material for wildly different styles of games within the same day, shifting gears in type of game, genre and concept, without batting an eyelid. But these were mere dalliances, passing from one concept to another as if they were hors d’oeuvres to be sampled without getting the full flavour. However, coming from a deep writing experience at the novel level in the Fantasy genre and shifting to a similar experience in Science Fiction made me balk at jumping straight back in. I was, quite frankly, out of my depth – at least at first blush.

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Content-Immersion psychosis is a growing problem amongst authors.
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I had hoped to jump back in where I left off. Just re-read the last part of the novel I had put aside, find my feet and get back to writing. This was, after all, a story I had been carrying around with me for over five years, so I was familiar with what I wanted to do and where I was, but the moment I opened the doc in Scrivener and started to reread it felt so weird – such a strange alien world. Why was it so hard?

The only real explanation I have is that my immersion in my fantasy viking novel for NaNoWriMo had sunk my subconscious into a sense of flow specific to that task. Somehow I had tuned my brain to write  a Fantasy novel and had begun to live within those parameters and suddenly confronted with my SF work, half-done, it just didn’t compute.

Writing a large scale piece like a novel demands a lot more, I think, that other kinds of writing. There’s obviously a lot more going on – either with more characters and the interactions between them, or deeper insight into the few characters you have, their world which needs to be rendered with a bit more detail, and so on. Its a different sense of pace, density and complexity that a shorter works of fiction tends not to require, or at least, not for the same lengths of time and attention.

There’s also the emotional cost. Spending a lot of time in a character’s head, infusing their hopes and dreams, motivations and concerns and opening it for the world to see can weigh heavily. Its not uncommon for a writer to form a deep connection to them, and even experience their character’s emotions in a similar way a method actor might, or even feel guilt about subjecting them to harsh situations, or anxiety about their futures. It can be very demanding getting inside them, to become them. With this kind of emotional weight it’s not easy to walk away from this sort of experience and simply “switch gears” to a different kind of world or character altogether.

There needs to be some sort of cool-off time, or adjustment period, or even, I’m wondering, a sort of therapy to help readjusting to this new world that needs to be written.  My own self-administered therapy is a good SF novel, a few listens to my PS-Analyzer mix playlist and, I guess it has to be done sometime, re-reading the novel that has been written to date without any expectations. Hopefully, I’ll be able to find my feet again.

Its certainly not something I’ve experience before, though that’s probably because I’ve usually had long “cool off” periods in between major projects – something on the lines of several months, rather than a few days to a week.

I wonder if this is common for other writers facing this sort of challenge. Do they “cool off” between radically different projects, or do they splinter into different personalities to handle them? Is space opera master Iain M. Banks really the same person as Iain Banks the psychological drama writer, or just a different personality downloaded into the same cranium, channeling a different mindset?

Wrapping up the Vale of Odin

Vale of OdinHwaet! So it was that work on my NaNoWriMo novel “The Vale of Odin” was completed, at least until I get some feedback about it. In total, I wrote it over a period of six weeks, then spent a good solid week doing a revision pass where I managed to translate bits of it back into English from the weird pidgin language that I jammed into it in my frenetic writing delirium, and generally corrected typos. After that I turned my eye toward the inevitable cover. The artist in me had been thinking about which scenes might make good illustrations as the story unfolded, so it was only a matter of time before I’d sketch out a few things. Should it be the villain looking over his shoulder as though the viewer is his vanquisher? Should it be an action scene a la Frazetta, bringing out the pulpiness of the novel? Dark clouds, blood spatters, skulls?

I eventually settled on a rather low-key image of the main character, Bjorni Jotenbani, near the end of his journey. I like my images to either tell a story or hint at one, so there is some hidden subtext behind this image.  I tried to get a sense of melancholy and weariness into it, so its rather drab. I’m not sure its the sort of image that would sell a novel, but for me, the painting was more about presenting the identity, or character of the story.

As usual, a task that started as an idea that “would only take an hour or two, perhaps an evening”, turned into several long sessions in Photoshop, gradually work and reworking each area until I was satisfied with it. In the end, I’m not sure its really done, as each time I look at it, I see areas that need more and more work. Specifically, Bjorni’s helm which is different to the one I describe in the book since it would obscure most of his face, the angle of the boat’s gunwale on the right and the boss of his shield, which should be more spherical rather than conical – right now, it appears to be like a propeller driven airplane nose and that might be a subconscious thing on my part.

Since its only going to be used as a basic cover for an e-book to be given to friends for the time being, it should be enough. Its much better than the ten minute thing I slapped together for the novel’s entry on NaNoWriMo.

Ultimately, it was an itch that needed scratching and I consider it well and truly scratched.

Image credits: Top, “In the Mouth of Madness” still – New Line Cinema,  Bottom: Vale of Odin, digital painting by Ken McCulloch