Some Thoughts on Finishing Vallista

This one has been an experience.  I think I will have learned things, once I’m done processing.  As part of the processing, here are some thoughts:

The book started in a very typical way for me:, “Oh, I know what would be cool!”  One thing that wasn’t typical is the degree of pre-writing feedback on it; I kicked around ideas with Skyler White and Jen Melchert.  This was unexpectedly useful.  For a leave-me-alone-till-it’s-done type, it is interesting to consider how many really cool ideas came out of those conversations.  Not sure if I’ll do that again, but I at least won’t reject the idea out of hand.

The writing itself was somewhat slow, but not terribly.  I did my usual thing: it will write itself as fast as it wants to, and my only choice is how miserable to make myself in the meantime.

And then, somewhere around the halfway point, something entirely new and unexpected happened: I got nailed with an idea of what I wanted to write next.  Not just nailed, but the over-the-top, “Got to write this need to write this arrrrgh” feeling I know and love.  But this has never happened before while I was in the middle of a different book.

In retrospect, I might have been better off just dropping Vallista until the other one was done, but I didn’t.  I finished it anyway, and as a result it was a mess.  The first draft of that book is probably worse than any other I’ve completed, including Brokedown Palace, and Athyra.

While waiting to meet with my critique group (Emma Bull, Pamela Dean, Will Shetterly, Adam Stemple), I went and wrote the other one (working title Magister Valley) which was every bit as joyful an experience as I’d thought it would be.

Then I met with the group (I’d already previously met with Skyler, who was the first to point out the problems in the first draft), and set in to fix the thing.

The revisions were predictably slow and painful and Not Fun.  The thing is, the critique group and Skyler did just what they were supposed to: highlighted the problems in a clear enough way that I knew what I had to do in general, and pointed to solutions–in general.  And that was where the challenge came in.  Because it is one thing to get a comment like, “I’m not clear on the motivations for this character,” or, “you have a lot of this kind of thing that you don’t need and it just slows everything down.”  Those are not only useful, but easy to attack.  However, when broader, more structural problems come to light, I know I need to fix them, but translating that problem to the exact words that need to be deleted and added is not easy for me.  In the end, one of the biggest problems, maybe the biggest, translated to: It isn’t cool enough.  Yikes.  So, yeah, I made it cooler.

One of things really good critics will do is that they will often point out unrelated problems that you eventually discover will solve each other.  I don’t want to go into too much detail because of spoilers, but for example, “I was disappointed that you didn’t go into this kind of scene,” and, “this part of the book felt slow,” lend themselves to, “Okay, I can put that kind of scene in this part of the book.”  I did a lot of that sort of thing.  Whole new scenes were added with the idea drumming in my head: It needs to be cooler.

The interesting thing is how happy I am with it right now.  Before, it wasn’t a bad book, it was a meh book.  I hate that worse.  I have to caution you that it’s pretty clear that what I think of a book has pretty much no relationship to what others will think of it, or even, necessarily, what I will think of it in five years.  But the difference between how I felt about it before and how I feel about it now is huge.

It will be interesting to see if this experience changes how I approach things in the next book.  One of the coolest parts of this business is that one never stops learning.

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I play the drum.

48 thoughts on “Some Thoughts on Finishing Vallista”

  1. Really looking forward to this (and my son will be as excited as i am). Thanks for the update!

  2. One of the things that I love about what you do is how much effort and craft goes into it. It’s inspiring.

  3. Yay! I can’t wait to read the revised version. And the draft I saw was better than “meh,” it just wasn’t yet as good as you are.

  4. I know the feeling of editing a big thing to make it better, but not sure how. Inspired by your ability to turn vague feedback into concrete coolness.
    Can’t wait for both books!

  5. Thanks for sharing a small window into your creative process. If one of your goals of posting was to get the readers of your previous works excited about both Vallista and Magister Valley, I can say “mission accomplished” from this participant.

  6. Dittoing Skye. It just wasn’t done yet. Ain’t no shame in that, just frustration.

  7. Looking forward to it! A lot of the reader fun at this stage is imagining how the House in question will be represented: Vallista brings to mind a Vlad-meets-Gormenghast gothic noir. And yet, I won’t be disappointed to be surprised – I never saw Jhegaala or Hawk coming, never would have expected Orca to be more finance than navy, but the adventures are all the cooler because I can’t predict ’em. Just lean back, buckle in, and trust my narrator, even when I suspect he is lying to me.

  8. Oddly (?), I find the implied comparison to Athyra and Brokedown Palace very exciting. I have no idea how the first finished draft compares to what was printed, but I think Athyra is your best book and Brokedown Palace probably makes the top five.

  9. Congratulations on finishing the opus! Can’t wait to see how Vlad rends and then rebuilds. Do I recall correctly that it is about a year to go through the rest of the publishing cycle?

    You’ve suggested in the past that Agyar was a quick and easy write. How did Magister Valley compare to that experience?

  10. Congrats on doing all that rewriting. Probably not fun. Thanks for letting us know how it went.

  11. What great timing.I started looking through dreamcafe yesterday for a Vallista update, came back again today, and here it is! Thanks for writing such great stuff for us to experience skzb!

  12. skzb–

    I know you can’t give any spoilers, but will Callista have any Desecrators in it? :D

  13. So, a first draft, then a difficult re-draft. You might say that you had to “rend, and then rebuild”. I thought it was *Vlad* who was supposed to learn about the title House in most books :-)

  14. skzb, How do you possibly keep all the worlds, times, factions, rules, magic and all that straight? Do you have some sort of map or guide you develop as you go?

  15. Steve: No, Good Guys was done over a year ago. There should be an announcement about that one soon. The other one that hit me is called Magister Valley. Dragaera, Paarfi, new characters.

    David: A lot of it is pretty well locked into my head. For the rest, the Lyorn Records are very helpful, and Alexx helps me to not screw up chronology.

  16. Ah…, to be reminded once again of the power of “The Cool Theory of Literature.” Thanks for the reminder, skzb.

  17. Yay! Vald and Parffi new? Awesome. Thank you SKZB for continuing to thrill and entertain us with thought provoking and fun stories!

    I started reading the Vald books as a teenager and now in my 40’s when I go back and read them again they never fail to provide some interesting thoughts about life.

  18. Just finished up the Khaavren Romances after reading all the Taltos series and I must say that I really enjoyed all of them. So thank you for coming up with such a great story. Eager for Vallista to come out. Any idea when it will be available? And I’ll end with one of my favorite Vlad quotes with which I laughed literally out loud..

    “Oh we’re making baskets of none-of-your-f@#$&?!-business.” Or something like that :D

  19. Any chance that Vlad will get the same kind of gift that Arra had? Sort of like a sweet ending so he can annoy everyone for thousands of years?

  20. I noticed Vallista being listed on amazon, available October 17, 2017. Cover picture looks amazing, and the description is tantalizing. Makes me wish for time travel…. Now what’s the title of the next glad book?

  21. As a reader who read the first three books way back when I had visionand now reads the most recent ones and re-reads the old oens on audiobook, I’m looking forwards to the continuation of the ongoing saga of Vlad Taltos. Hawk was so entertaining, and it put me is such a great headspace.

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