, just wasn’t leaving me enough time to write the ficition I love. So I turned to my companion, Delia Sherman (author of Through a Brazen Mirror and The Porcelain Dove), to help me out--or maybe she just got sick of my whining that there was no time, no time, my radio career is booming but my writing career is heading down the tubes, oh no, oh no!
Anyway: we began to play, “What if?” together. What if the characters from Swordspoint had kids? What would they be like? How would the city change? And what parts of the city were yet to be explored?
As a “recovering academic” with a degree in Renaissance Studies, Delia was awfully curious to know what the city’s University was like (you may remember that the mysterious Alec, in Swordspoint, has left there in disgrace, vowing never to return). I said, “OK, you write about that part.” So she chose the historian Basil St. Cloud to be her guide to the University, and along the way he picked up a loyal band of students who, to me, are themselves one of the most compelling “characters” in the book. I went back to my beloved Riverside District, and the troubled young nobleman Theron Campion, who uneasily divides his time between Riverside (still a dive, but slightly gentrified in the past 60 years), the Hill (where the nobles live) and University. And as a writer of historical fiction (and a wicked fierce researcher), Delia really wanted to know more about the background of the country: what was there in its past that gave rise to the rather louche society of Swordspoint? So, together we began to explore its history, and even its murky pre-history and legend….
How did we make up the plot?
Women always laugh when I explain, “It was like playing ‘Barbies’.” Or maybe, imagine Tom & Huck down by the river being pirate kings…. We just made stuff up, with each of us directing our own characters. We’d talk things through, and then we’d write them down. (We are, after all, both professional writers!)
Did we have fights?
Oh, yeah--but not about what you think. Except for the question “Should someone die at the end? And if so, who?” we were pretty much in accord about all the plot twists and turns. The bitterest fights were over the use of punctuation: “I can’t be-lieeeeeeve you want to put a comma there!” “You think that’s where that paragraph breaks? Whaddaya, nuts?!”
The absolutely worst fight of all, though, was over the naming of the city--or “the City,” as its denizens tend to refer to it. Delia said the place had to have a name, finally, because it was driving her crazy. I tried. Really, I tried. But nothing felt right. And in the end, I invoked the “New York Rule”: If you’ve ever lived near or in Manhattan, you know that nobody calls it that. New Jerseyites, for instance, don’t say, “I’m going to New York this weekend to see a show;” it’s: “I’m going to the City.” Or: “Do you live in the City?” or “We’re thinking of moving to the City...”
It is a pretty long book, and I wish I could tell you who wrote what. But true collaboration is a funny thing: as Neil Gaiman recently told an interviewer (re. his work with Terry Pratchett on Good Omens), “I wrote 90% of the book. The only problem was, [s]he wrote the other 90%.”
To be honest, Delia must have written at least 75% of the first draft. But then I rewrote her stuff, and she rewrote my stuff, and we added and subtracted . . .it took more than 3 years to write this book, and it is honestly true that at this point there are entire paragraphs where neither of us can figure out who wrote what you see on the page.
It has been a real joy to return to all the districts of this City with such a boon companion.
P.S. If the story of the new novel sounds strangely familiar to you, it may be that you read the novella Delia & I published in 1997, also called “The Fall of the Kings.” I recently found an e-mail I wrote someone at the time, talking about how hard it was to cut the thing down to story-length, and how both of us feared that it was just going to have to be turned into a novel…