So, I was making slow but steady headway on "Invisible Sun" (Merchant Princes: The Next Generation #3) when I got bitten this morning by an Attack Novel. I mean, a rabid one. So far, I've confined myself to writing the first 2500 words of an outline; I plan to finish it today, stick it in a drawer to cool (or until the urge to create becomes irresistible), then go back to "Invisible Sun".
This isn't a unique event. You might have noticed Wednesday's wholly inappropriate blog entry about a political satire/thriller that is utterly unsaleable, revolving around the identity of the 2016 Republican Party Candidate for POTUS.
But there's more.
A couple of weeks ago, having publicly said a month earlier that I wisnae gonnae go there, I farted up a wholly new idea for another Near Future Scottish Police Procedural a la "Halting State"/"Rule 34"—only with a very different focus, and so different that I probably can't shoe-horn it into the niche of "The Lambda Functionary" (the planned third book in the trilogy). (It's about the homicide detective with a brain implant that keeps him from thinking he's dead, a viral encephalopathy pandemic that causes Cotard's Delusion, and an enforcer who goes around turning off zombies who've hacked the DRM on their implants. Yes, it's a cognitive zombie detective novel. No, I still can't write it—not until after we're past the Scottish political singularity. But at least I now know what it's about.)
And (I can admit it now) last summer I squirted out an entire unscheduled attack novel, "The Armageddon Score". It's a Laundry Files novel, but narrated by Mo, not Bob, and gives us a very different view of what's going on in the run-up to CASE NIGHTMARE GREEN. (Hopefully it'll come out next July.)
Anyway. I may be slow on the uptake, but I finally figured out what's going on in my head.
In 2008 I published "Saturn's Children". This was followed by "Wireless", a short story collection, and since then, every novel I have sold, written, or published has been part of an existing continuity or series.
It's true. If it's Laundry Files, it's in series. If it's Merchant Princes, it's in series. "Neptune's Brood" is in continuity with "Saturn's Children", and "Rule 34" was in continuity with "Halting State". I'm leaving out "The Rapture of the Nerds" because a collaboration is effectively a different author ...
... But I'm suffering withdrawal symptoms from creating something entirely ab initio.
Partly it's my own fault (Laundry Files novels are now pretty comfortable—I have a Method—and the Merchant Princes are a known quantity too), and partly it's a side-effect of the structure of publishing companies. While it's the job of a senior editor to acquire new books, another part of the job (which the public don't get to see) is that the editor has to sell the idea of the book to their marketing team, who in turn have to go forth and motivate the buyers for the various bookstore chains and wholesalers. It is much easier to sell another book in a series than to sell something wholly new, because it's simply that much easier to explain. You can replace a whole lot of brain-sweat and communication with a simple, "this is the next one in that series you sold last year". And so, whenever my agent and I sit down with an editor to discuss what I can write next year, we instinctively focus on what we sold last year.
But eventually something's got to give. Right now I'm writing the third volume of "Merchant Princes: The Next Generation". It will be followed by the rewrite/submission draft of Laundry Files book 6, and then (almost certainly) by Laundry Files book 7. By the time I've written "The Nightmare Stacks" in, say, early 2015, it will have been seven years since I was last let off the leash to write something wholly original. Nine novels will have passed under the bridge since then, in existing series. And I can feel the pressure to do something new beginning to build up.
PS: In case you were wondering? The outline I'm writing is for a Gothic architectural urban fantasy novel about a slowly dying family of magicians and the effects of the housing bubble on their ancestral home. And I am going to try not to write it before I've finished "Invisible Sun".