Project Z

As I triumphantly tweeted on Wednesday, I have finished the final (major) revision of my schizophrenia novel, which most of you know as Strawberry Fields and some of you know as Pain of Glass. Neither of those titles were intended to stick, and I’m happy to announce that with the revision I’ve settled on the final name of The Hollow City; my agent and editor love the title, so it is unlikely to change.

Tor is buying The Hollow City as we speak, but the contract is not yet final so I don’t have any details to share with you. I can tell you that the book will most likely be published in early 2012, that it is a standalone SF/horror thriller, and that fans of my John Cleaver books will love it. It’s not set in the same world (or least it isn’t overtly set in the same world–there’s nothing preventing the two from coexisting), but it hits the same psychological, urban horror vibe as my first series, and I think you’ll dig it. My German publisher is looking at it as well, and we’re hoping the new revision attracts some attention in my other major markets such as the UK.

This book was very hard to write, for a variety of reasons. The first is that it’s not something I’d ever done before–I wanted to really play around with reality, yet still avoiding the cliches of the schizophrenia subgenre as much as possible. I started by reading a ton of psychology books; not fiction, but textbooks and self-help books and everything I could find that dealt with the diagnosis, treatment, and daily life of schizophrenia. Mental illness tends to get either demonized or glorified in our culture, and I wanted to paint it as realistically as possible–which sounds weird in a book about scary monsters, I know, but I made the effort anyway. My next step was to go back and re-read some of my favorite Philip K. Dick stories, such as A Scanner Darkly, to put myself in the right mindset. The first draft of the book was way too weird; my writing group tended to like the individual chapters, but couldn’t follow the plot or piece together the mystery. I did a major rewrite, overhauling vast portions of the plot, putting many chapters in a different order, and adding in an all-new character, which helped a ton, but the book wasn’t quite there yet. I still needed another revision, but the pieces were coming into place.

Major revisions, I should point out, are fun. It’s cool to take a book, see the big, obvious problems, and rewrite it to fix them. It’s taking a bad book and turning it into a good book, which is easy and kind of exciting. Minor revisions, on the other hand, are very hard: that’s when you take a good book and turn it into a better book. You can’t just run rampant through the story, gobbling up the low-hanging fruit; you have to pay close attention to details, make tiny adjustments, and polish it all to a high gloss. It’s like painting a wall: slapping on a big, solid color with a roller is actually the easiest part, the hard part is going around the edges to touch up the corners and fill in the cracks. My final revision of The Hollow City took as long or longer than writing the book in the first place, and there were times I wanted to just delete the stupid file and never speak of it again. My wife talked me out of it, but boy was I tempted. I’m glad I stuck with it, though, because I’m very pleased with the final product, and I think it more than solved all of the earlier problems. I should offer special thanks here to my German editor, Carsten, with whom I had many conversations about what was wrong and how exactly how to fix it. He was a big help.

And now we begin the whirlwind that shall be known, for now, as Project Z. This is the big deal I’ve mentioned a few times and cannot yet actually talk about, but don’t worry–the publisher is getting their announcement ready, and soon it will all be known. I don’t know what they’re planning as an announcement, so I don’t want to overhype it–it’s not like they’re doing a superbowl commercial or anything, it will pretty much just be an announcement, but there you go. Project Z is a series I’ve thought about a lot, dealing with some themes that I love coming back to, and it’s going to be a ton of fun to write it. The trouble is, I told myself I wouldn’t start it until I finished The Hollow City, and I also told the publisher that I could send them a draft in February, so I’m going to be writing my head off for the next two or three months. I’ve never written a book on spec before (publishing-speak for “sell the book before you’ve actually written it”), so it’s going to be interesting; I sold the John Cleaver sequels after I’d only written the first book, but this is different. And me being me, I’m going to catalog as much of the writing process as I possibly can right here on my blog. This will not be nearly as detailed as the process blogs I wrote for The Mountain of the Lord, because I don’t want to give some of the awesome secrets away, but it will be as detailed as I can make it. I’ve already got a ton of the world-building and outlining finished–that’s how I sold the publisher on it, after all–but my outline needs to be greatly expanded before I can actually start writing prose. Tune in on Monday for a look at my outlining process for the mysterious Project Z.

9 Responses to “Project Z”

  1. Christoph says:

    That sounds great! Either piece of news is enough to send me to bed (it´s near midnight here in Germany) with a good feeling.
    And I want to thank you for trying to depict schizophrenia as it is – I know quite many people who do not really know what schizophrenia is (they all think that it is that multiple persona thing, which is actually only a very minor branch of it). My brother suffers from hebephrenic schizophrenia, and whenever people hear it they treat him like he has multiple personae, when in fact he suffers from delusions and hallucinations and serious decline in social functioning. He was ever a happy person who loved talking to others (so much that it was embarassing), but nowadays he spends his time mostly shut in his room, being unnerved by crowds (more than two people talking simultaneously being a crowd…).
    So, thank you for raising the awareness for this illness, while presenting us with a probably very fantastic book. I look forward to reading it!

  2. Great post, Dan. I loved your comments about revising a book. Wish Writing Excuses would do a series on revisions. I’d love to hear how you approach major revisions, how you partition revisions for timeline consistency and pacing, as well as narrative and dialog.

    Good news also about Hollow.

    Cheers — Larry

  3. Matthew Watkins says:

    The Hollow City. Hmm.

    Sounds awesome. That is a great name for a book by the way. (Although I still like Pain of Glass). I am very excited for this book to come out, though I’m likely to have to wait about a year and a half to get it :(

    Also, I’m very excited to hear about project super secret Z. Congratulations on all the good work you are doing.

  4. Eliza says:

    I’m excited to read whatever you get up on the shelves, and to get more sneaky peeks into your process! I’ve been successfully using the seven point outline you’ve demonstrated on a number of stories, and I think that method has helped me improve a lot.

    On another note, I just finished Mr. Monster. I’d been waiting to read it until I had a nice block of uninterrupted time, and I’m glad I did. I spent a lot of the Thanksgiving time reading it, occasionally surrounded by family. Picture this: Reading the scene in Forman’s office, with Stephanie, while a seven year old giggles next to you on the couch. That was weird. But I loved the book!

  5. Max Moseley says:

    So, as you mentioned in one of your State of the Danion Addresses, Project Z is Nightbringer, correct? Is it safe to assume it’s been sold to Tor Books, seeing as all of your books thus far have been published by them?

    And good luck on writing it. You’re going to need it. ~_^

  6. Actually, on spec means the opposite of what you said. All of your books except for Cleaver 2&3 have been on spec.

  7. John Brown says:

    I like THE HOLLOW CITY as a title much better. Lovely title.

  8. [...] that grew into something so much more complex and interesting once the friend actually wrote his schizophrenia novel or his chalk-drawing novel or whatever. (I had nothing to do with the germination or the [...]

  9. ace says:

    Peter’s right — “on spec” means writing the book on speculation that someone will buy it once it’s written. We Hollywood screenwriters are awfully familiar with this scary prospect. Be thrilled that you wrote the book under contract!

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