Guest-blog: LAWRENCE C. CONNOLLY

Whilst I am away swanning it with writery-types at the Terror Scribes Gathering, I’ll leave you in the gentle hands of Lawrence C. Connolly. Lawrence has been writing since the early 1980s, with stories appearing in some of the genre’s top magazines and anthologies, among them Cemetery Dance, Twilight Zone, Fantasy & Science Fiction, and Year’s Best Horror Stories. His previous novel, Veins, was a Black Quill Award and Hoffer Award finalist in 2008. His current collection, This Way to Egress (2010), is published by (and available from) Ash-Tree Press and will be reviewed at bookgeeks.co.uk and on these pages in the near future. Vipers, the follow-on novel to Veins, will be available later on this year.

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How long does it take to write a novel?

Yesterday, I turned in my final round of edits and minor revisions for Vipers, a supernatural thriller scheduled for release on September 7.  Vipers is a follow-up to Veins (2008), which is set in and around an abandoned surface mine. Together, the books cover approximately sixteen hours of real time, with the action in Veins commencing a couple hours before midnight on a Sunday, and the action in Vipers concluding in the early afternoon on the following Monday.  Since the novels are fairly compact (about 90,000 words each) they can be read in real time.  In other words, the dramatic action takes about as long for the reader to read as it does for the characters to live the events.  These are fast books.  But the writing of them… well, that was another matter.

I’ve been writing for a while.

My first stories appeared in the early 80s, in publications like Amazing Stories, Twilight Zone Magazine, and Year’s Best Horror.  Most of those stories have recently been collected in two volumes, with the bulk of the sf and fantasy appearing in Visions (2009) and the lion’s share of the horror going to This Way to Egress (2010).

During the years when I was writing those stories, I always knew that sooner or later I was going to need to get around to writing a novel.  I made a couple of attempts, but most fell apart along the way, with the pieces becoming short stories and novelettes that sold to magazines and anthologies.  I discuss this process in both Visions and Egress, where you can read some of the stories that started out as novel projects.  Some of the more interesting attempts for me are “Smuggling the Dead” (1996), “The Soothsayer” (1997), and “The Break-In Artist” (2001) – all inspired by the days I spent in Russia during the winter of 1990.  You will find all of these stories collected (and arranged chronologically) in Egress, and when you read them you will see that they do not in any way resemble novel chapters.  They are short stories.  They always were.  Even when I was writing them as pieces of a novel, each had the short and tight narrative arc of short fiction.  Therein lay the challenge.  If I wanted to write novels, I would have to expand my vision, think beyond the single climax and dénouement.

It seems obvious, but it needs to be said that a short story is no more a truncated novel than a poem is an abbreviated short story.  The forms are completely different, with stories centring on single perspectives of well-defined conflicts, preferably ones that reach their dramatic resolution in under 7,000 words.  Novels, on the other hand, are deeper and more nuanced, with multiple perspectives demanding more complex resolutions.

With those differences in mind, I tried again.

In the early part of this decade, I produced a string of novelettes, most of which appeared in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction.  One of them was “Great Heart Rising” (Visions), which depicts the spiritual growth a young man who develops a deep and unexpected relationship with the land on which he was raised. Another was “Decanting Oblivion” (Egress), which centers on a high-speed bike ride through a quarantined city.  Incorporating complex elements (primarily sustained flashbacks and action sequences) and difficult-to-resolve conflicts touching on broad social and environmental issues, these novelettes are in many ways the direct antecedents of Veins and Vipers.  Each also took longer to write than anything I had attempted before.

A fairly slow writer, I’m often amazed by people who can generate a complete short story in a single session, or a novel in a few weeks.  That’s not me.  My stories tend to take weeks. The novelettes took a couple months.

And how long did the novels take?

I started work on Veins in November 2005 and submitted the first draft in September the following year.  A large chunk of that time involved research, but that’s still a lot of time spent on a relatively short novel.  The book sold in the spring of 2007, with rewriting and editing commencing in the fall of that year.  By the time the book launched in the summer of 2008, I’d spent three years (on and off) working on the project.

Vipers benefitted from much of the research and planning that had gone into Veins.  I spent May 2009 hammering out a detailed synopsis (50 pages, single spaced) and then spent the summer writing the book.  I turned the first draft over to my agent shortly before leaving for World Fantasy in October 2009.  By the end of the year I had a contract, and this past spring, within weeks of returning from World Horror, I received the first of a series of notes and revision requests from my editors—a process that continued straight up until the end of business yesterday.  (I am writing this on the morning of July 16.)

So how long does it take?

Let’s be completely honest.  Vipers took 30 years, beginning with the writing of my first short stories and continuing straight through to the submission of the book’s final edits yesterday afternoon.

Thirty years for a novel that can be read in about eight hours.

Somehow, that seems about right.

Links:

http://www.fantasistent.com/books/novels/vipers.html

http://www.fantasistent.com/books/novels/veins.html

http://www.ash-tree.bc.ca/atp146Egress.htm

http://www.fantasistent.com/books/collections/visions.html

http://teachingvisions.blogspot.com/

http://www.lawrencecconnolly.com/index.html

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Many thanks to Lawrence for taking time out of his extremely busy schedule to write this piece – a fascinating insight indeed into the sometimes lengthy processes involved in getting those novels out. His writing has been highly recommended to me by a number of people out there, so I am very much looking forward to sinking my teeth into the Egress collection soon. As I said in my little introduction I’ll be reviewing the book as soon as I can get around to it, so watch out for that.

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