Process Notes on Starter Villain
As I sometimes do when I finish writing a novel, here are some behind-the-scenes notes on Starter Villain, which I have now completed and which will be available (knocks wood) in
August September of 2023.
1. The book took longer to complete than expected because in June I got COVID, and while my physical symptoms were mostly pretty mild, it did a number on my ability to, you know, think. More specifically, I could easily superficially think — answering emails and farting about on social media wasn’t really a problem — but when it came to things that required some substantial brain power, like plotting a novel or building characters, my brain was very much “Hey, I’m not here for that.”
The very overt “me no brain I am COVID-y” phase lasted for about a month. After that came a period where I thought my brain fog had lifted, so I wrote steadily for about another month. Then the brain fog actually lifted, and I looked at what I had written during that month, and I went. “Oh. Oh. Oh, no.” So out that month of work went.
And then after that… well, see. I’ve never been the world’s most focused person, but over the course of three decades of professional life as a writer, I’ve developed a number of strategies to keep myself on target. You can’t say they haven’t worked: Just this year I had a novel, a novella, an episode of television and an EP of music come out. But post-COVID, focus was especially hard to come by. I don’t know if it was some sort of long COVID thing, or just that I so disrupted my usual working tactics that I couldn’t easily come back to them, or some combination of the two.
Whatever it was, while I wouldn’t say writing this novel took longer than it should — “should” is not the right word when factoring in the effects of COVID — I can say that writing this novel took longer than I had hoped.
The good news here is I got actually a whole lot of support from Tor in dealing with the after-effects of COVID, particularly from my editor Patrick Nielsen Hayden. They let me write on it until the last possible production moment, which was, uhhhh, today. I was and am extremely grateful for that support, and also, I still don’t feel great about turning it in at literally the last minute, because people at Tor are going to be working during the holiday season on something I had wanted to get into them months ago. It is what it is, but for the future it’s incumbent on me to get a better grip on how my brain is currently working and factor that into my writing process, so the folks at Tor can factor it in to their production process.
(And before anyone makes the suggestion in the comments, why, yes, I will be making an appointment with my doctor to see if the borderline ADHD I’ve had most of my life has finally tipped over into a place where some medication might be necessary. Maybe so! We’ll see.)
2. One of the interesting things about the novel taking so long to write is that 2022 was the year a bunch of malignant people, many of them billionaires, decided to go full villain themselves; the last 12 months is choc-a-block with these dudes looking around, going “fuck it, mask off” to the applause of their boot-huffers. The saving grace of this is that it turns out most of them are actually really bad at it, and while I can’t say it’s been exactly fun to watch them fail and flail — the real-world implications of at least some of their actions have gone beyond mere schadenfreude to actual tragedy for others, and the world in general — it has been useful in calibrating the book I was writing.
More to the point: You can’t write a book about fictional villainy, even one that’s meant to be (mostly) light and (mostly) funny, by ignoring the effects of actual villainy being practiced in the world around you. When I suggested this novel idea to Patrick in 2021, it’s not like I didn’t have real-world examples to consider. But the tenor of real-world ultra-rich villainy, the sort I am essaying for fictional purposes in this novel, took a bit of a darker turn this year, and I had to incorporate that in — if not directly, then at least as an awareness of how practical villainy works these days.
Which is to say this book will reflect 2022 like The Kaiju Preservation Society reflected 2020, warped and funny, but you can see the reflection all the same.
3. I wrote this on Twitter today, regarding a complaint that Kaiju was clearly written by a “rabid liberal”:
And, listen, it’s true: If you thought I was an intolerable liberal before, this upcoming book really ain’t gonna make you happy. Hey! Lots of billionaires are toxic and even the “good” ones often end up being highly problematic! And most of them are trust fund babies who are not actually all that smart! Unions and collective bargaining turn out to be positive for most people! Valorization of “the ends justifies the means” ends up being a bad thing in nearly every situation! I don’t personally think these are particularly “screaming liberal” positions, but then that’s exactly what a screaming liberal would say, so there you have it.
In general I don’t go out of my way to stop the narrative of a story, get on a soapbox and spout doctrinaire political positions — I think when most people get to the bits about unions in the book they’ll enjoy the incongruity of the moment more than they will be exasperated about the plumping for collective bargaining, for example — but I do understand that for some people, any deviance by an author from the reader’s own baseline assumptions of how the world works will throw them out of the work in question. Which, you know, is fine. But also is not going to stop me from doing what I do, particularly for a book that takes place in contemporary time, which touches, mostly implicitly but occasionally explicitly, on real world events.
Anyway. I’ve been writing novels for 20 years now and I’ve had people yelling at me about the public display of my politics for longer than that. I feel at this point who I am should all be baked into ground assumptions. So, yeah.
4. I know many of you will have questions about audio books, releases in various formats and in various countries, so before you ask those questions in the comments, please peruse the New Book FAQ I wrote a couple of books back. The answers will probably be there!
5. Here’s an important thing: I like Starter Villain. It took longer than I anticipated to write, and the story went in some directions I did not anticipate it would go. But the end result, I think, is a better novel than it would have been otherwise. As a writer, I think that’s ultimately what you want: A good book that you’re happy with, that you can give to readers and say “I like this. I hope you do too.” That’s what I have, here. I’m looking forward to sharing it with you all.