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[GUEST POST] Julie E. Czerneda (THIS GULF OF TIME AND STARS) on “Committing Series”

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Photo: Roger Czerneda

Since 1997, Canadian author/editor Julie E. Czerneda has shared her love and curiosity about living things through her science fiction, writing about shapechanging semi-immortals, terraformed worlds, salmon researchers, and the perils of power. Her fourteenth novel from DAW Books was her debut fantasy, A Turn of Light, winner of the 2014 Aurora Award for Best English Novel, and now Book One of her Night`s Edge series.

Her most recent publications:
a special omnibus edition of her acclaimed near-future SF Species Imperative, as well as Book Two of Night`s Edge, A Play of Shadow, a finalist for this year’s Aurora.

Julie’s presently back in science fiction, writing the finale to her Clan Chronicles series. Book #1 of Reunification, This Gulf of Time and Stars, will be released by DAW November 2015. For more about her work, visit www.czerneda.com or visit her on Facebook, Twitter, or Goodreads.

Committing Series: Go Figure

by Julie E. Czerneda

I was a full-time science author and editor when I made the to-me astonishing decision to send a story into the world. My motivation? To see what might happen. I’d no knowledge of the process for fiction nor any connections to people who did. What I had was a filing cabinet of unfinished stories, so I picked the longest, finished it, and the rest is, as they say, history. Story X became A Thousand Words for Stranger, published by DAW in 1997.

Having learned some of the ropes by then and, more importantly, now surrounded by people-who-knew-things including an interested and supportive editor (Sheila E. Gilbert), before Thousand was released I sold DAW the next from my drawer, Story III, Beholder’s Eye. There wasn’t a link between those stories, other than I loved both and was having a blast. On a roll, that’s where I was, with another nineteen stories at my fingertips should they prove worthy.

But which?

I certainly wasn’t going to write another about Sira and Morgan. That was my first book, my lucky break, and surely I could do better. Besides, at convention (parties), I’d heard the dire tales of authors whose careers languished in never-ending, unappreciated series. Wasn’t going to be me. I stuck a warning post-it on my desk saying “nothing comes after destiny.”* Remember I said that.

Instead, I leaned towards Story XIII, about terraforming gone wrong. But something happened then I hadn’t expected.

You see, I’d come at writing fiction from two sides: one where I’d questions science fiction let me explore, and the other because I adored stories with aliens and starships and wanted my very own. Having finished a couple of books taught me a truth about story-telling. I liked Beholder’s Eye better. Why? Because it was whole. Thousand, while a rousing, successful story with a great ending, was not. I’d neglected to answer its original question and others of fundamental importance. What would happen to the Clan? How had they come to this? Most of all, how could these aliens exist in the first place?

While loving the book (thank you!), some readers called me out on that neglect, including a thoughtful might-have-been-mine agent. Me? I admit it stung to recognize what I’d failed to do, but I consoled myself. I’d written my first novel and done a damned good job. From here on, I’d write rigorous, whole stories and prove myself.

Knowing Sheila as I do now, I’m quite sure she was well aware I wasn’t done with Sira and Morgan. She just waited for me to figure it out for myself.

My next sale to DAW was a wondrous, confidence-building three-book deal: that terraforming story from my drawer, In the Company of Others. Another Esen to follow Beholder, called Changing Vision, because Sheila loves the Blue Blob too.

And–a project to relieve that earlier sting. I suggested it be titled “After Destiny.”

I’m not above making fun of myself.

The title didn’t fly, being too fantasy-ish for someone just getting started, and the book was retitled Ties of Power.** In it I would, I vowed to myself, wrap up ALL the questions in one fell swoop and be done.

At the 60 000 word mark, give or take a dozen, I was smacked head on by yet another story-telling truth. I couldn’t do it. I vividly recall sitting back to stare at the screen, my mouth working like a fish drowning in air.

Oh, the story was great, but here I was, at the point where plot threads should come together, only to find them growing stronger and deeper, and in parallel, no less! My choices? Cut out the heart of what was becoming an immense, fascinating story, or call Sheila.

Whom I’m quite sure was waiting for me to figure that out too.

We talked. There’d be a trilogy, The Trade Pact Trilogy. I’d write #3 next, entitled “Journey Through the M’hir” (which became To Trade the Stars), then a new Esen.

It was while writing Trade that I realized I could do a fine job of wrapping up the events of that trilogy, but not so the larger story. I scribbled notes to myself, determined to avoid dire never-ending series syndrome at all costs. With great daring, I proposed two books as prequels: one to show the start of the Clan’s abilities, the second how they came to Human space. I’d alluded in Thousand to a split in their kind—my biologist-self had insisted there be a speciation event, a chance for something new to evolve. I’d thoughtfully given it a name: Stratification. To answer the questions posed in Thousand, I’d write a two book sequel to the Trade Pact. I’d refer to these as Reunification for several reasons, chief being my intention to pull all the plot threads together as they should be, but also because I wanted to return the Clan of the Trade Pact to their roots. Sheila, who wasn’t surprised, said yes.***

Some writing truths, I kid you not, are discovered in kitchens. Sheila was in ours for a visit. She was curious about Species Imperative, specifically how much was still to happen in book two of, yes, two. I believe I may have sounded a bit desperate. I know she just smiled. I stopped, then said, so, book three? She laughed and that’s how the original duology became a trilogy.

Wait for it.

Yes. That’s how I discovered trilogies are what work for me.**** (I discuss the topic with Karina Sumner-Smith next week at www.beautyinruins.com.) Suffice to say that at the appropriate moment, I called Sheila to add Rift in the Sky to Stratification, and Untitled #3 to Reunification with nary a blush. In fact, by the end The Clan Chronicles will be a trilogy of trilogies: a nine book series. I may be the only one ever surprised by that.

The more I work on Reunification, the more right it feels. A Thousand Words for Stranger was always more than Story X in my drawer or my longest unfinished story, more than my first finished, my first sale, my “lucky” break into a career I love with all my heart. It was me, before I knew how, asking myself a question whose answer I cared about deeply, an answer that took me this long to compose. I couldn’t be happier.

That dire tale of an author languishing in a never-ending, unappreciated series? Just that. A tale. The truth of “committing series” is far more complex and, for me, satisfying, as truth often is. I’d started a big sweeping story; it will take a big sweeping canvas to tell it.

Go figure.

I’m grateful to you, dear readers, for your interest and patience along the way. As you’ve seen here, we both owe Sheila Gilbert and DAW Books a debt of gratitude. Not only for publishing these books, but for letting me work them out for myself.

By the way, The Gate to Futures Past, Book #2 of Reunification will be released September 2016 and the final volume will be out in 2017, exactly 20 years after Thousand. Happy Anniversary, Sira and Morgan!

* (Aside: Sequels to Beholder’s Eye don’t count. They’re glorious vacations where I indulge myself in weird biology with my favourite character.)

** (Aside: I’d received an urgent request midway through Ties for a “series” title to link it to Thousand and anything else I might write in that universe. A portent, had I thought that way. I proposed “Clan Chronicles” which—as I was still unknown in SF–was again deemed too fantasy-ish. We went with “Trade Pact Universe.” Fast forward. I confess to being title-retentive. When we needed an over-arching name for all nine? I had no shame proposing “The Clan Chronicles” and this time it took. A career can be measured in the small things too.)

*** (Aside: Those familiar with my books will recall I wrote Species Imperative before starting Stratification. Planned before my Clan “epiphany.” I think that worked out well.)

**** (Aside: To all those lovely readers who clamoured for a sequel to Company during this period: now you understand part of why I laughed wildly and said no.)

About Kristin Centorcelli (842 Articles)
Kristin Centorcelli is the Associate Editor at SF Signal, proprietor of My Bookish Ways, a reviewer for Library Journal and Publisher’s Weekly, and has also written for Crime Fiction Lover, Criminal Element, and Mystery Scene Magazine. She has been reviewing books since late 2010, in an effort to get through a rather immense personal library, while also discussing it with whoever will willingly sit still (and some that won’t).

6 Comments on [GUEST POST] Julie E. Czerneda (THIS GULF OF TIME AND STARS) on “Committing Series”

  1. I love the trilogy idea. One gets involved in characters and the grief at the end of a solo book when you can not delve any deeper into these people you have kept company with for a number of hours, is deep. The trilogy gives space to learn more, be involved more in the lives of the characters. The trilogy also allows for some closure. THEN! Woot! A trio of trilogies! More good stuff. I do admit I find some of the ongoing series that are out there now that just keep going and going and the plot never seems to advance, or the protagonist never seem to get ahead of the curve. Again, a trilogy allows room to expand, but also provides boundaries within a given tangent, allowing closure. You can always go off on a new tangent in a related but other trilogy!

  2. I still give a slight shudder when you laugh wildly…reflex I guess. I like COMPANY as a stand alone. Some stories just don’t need to be fully explained/told.

  3. And so you should.
    I’m happy with COMPANY is too, but there was quite the uproar for a while. Luckily, that switched over to Species Imperative.

  4. Ginette Cyr // November 3, 2015 at 4:31 pm //

    In the Company of Others as a special space in my heart because it’s the first book of yours I read and it made me want to read everything you wrote. Even your 2 fantasy books and I don’t usually read fantasy.

  5. Natalie Reinelt // November 3, 2015 at 5:07 pm //

    Thanks once again for being so open, Julie.

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