Sunday, October 4, 2015

In praise (more or less) of trying new things.

I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that I've been working on a companion guide to the Pipe Woman Chronicles, so that folks who aren't up-to-speed with all the gods and goddesses in the series can have one place to look them all up. I'm happy to report that A Billion Gods and Goddesses is now in the capable hands of my editing team, and I'm aiming for release sometime at the end of this month.

No, really. I'm very happy to report that. Pulling this thing together was nothing like writing the novels themselves.

The writing styles are different, of course. With fiction, you just put your fingers to the keyboard and start typing, and with any luck, a story comes tumbling out. There are stops and starts, of course, and digressions, and blind alleys, and characters who creep up behind you and bash you over the head so they can run away with the story. But you don't have to stick to the facts if you don't want to. The characters' emotional reactions have to ring true, yes, but you can pretty much make up everything else.

I think most of you know that I was a journalist in my younger days. Journalism (ideally) deals in facts and only facts. Even when you're writing about someone's emotional reaction to an event, your best bet is to stick to a dispassionate reporting style. Plus the factual details are right there in front of you, or at least fresh in your mind.

Writing the god guide was like neither of these -- and like both of them, a little -- and also like writing a 20,000-word thesis. Except more entertaining than a thesis. At least, it had better be. I'm certainly not using academic prose, and mythology is fun.

The thing is that I did the research for the earliest books in the series three-plus years ago. And in the god guide, I'm reporting on mythology, if you will, rather than using the myths as a springboard for my own creative interpretation, as I did in the novels. So I didn't just have to review my sources -- I had to keep checking the details as I wrote, to make sure I wasn't going too far afield (as well as to make sure I wasn't unconsciously plagiarizing a source when retelling a myth).

In the end, though, it was a good exercise. Authors sometimes talk about the differences in writing short stories vs. novels vs. screenwriting vs. poetry. Each of these types of writing stretches different muscles. Journalism stretches yet another type of writing muscle. And a book like A Billion Gods and Goddesses is an exercise of yet another sort.

Many years ago, when I worked for WKEE Radio in Huntington, WV, one of my co-workers was Toria Tolley, who eventually went to work for CNN Headline News. She made the jump from radio into TV with an anchor job in Charleston, WV. A few weeks after she made the move, I asked her how it was going -- and she said, "Now I can go work in a bank."

That's kind of how I feel about the god guide. It was an interesting project to take on, and it was a good excuse to stretch those non-fiction-writing muscles. But now I can go back to writing novels.

These moments of muscle-stretching blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell.

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