Yesterday I finished going through page proofs of Red Country and sent a handful of changes back to the publisher, most of which were simple swaps of a new word for one I’d used twice in close proximity. Amazing how these things persist to this point after all the rounds of editing. But that means, in essence, that my involvement in the book is done. Now it belongs to you, the readers. Of extremely limited interest to most people, but interesting to me…
The final version of Red Country is 172,100 words. The 1st Draft was 170,700 words, and the 2nd Draft 164,700, so somewhat to my surprise it’s actually got quite a lot longer in the finishing, although the profile has changed, with the early parts getting shorter and the later being fleshed out a bit. Still, 172,100 is makes it by some margin my shortest book. The others, out of interest (as close as I can reckon):
The Blade Itself – 191.2 thousand.
Before They Are Hanged – 198.3
Last Argument of Kings – 234.1
Best Served Cold – 227.7
The Heroes – 203.4
Incidentally the three standalone books were all pitched to be between 150-175,000 words so it’s only with Red Country that I’ve actually managed to hit the length I was always aiming at. It also means I’ve written well over 1.2 million words of fiction altogether. My fingers hurt. And my brain, of course, but that always hurts.
Hard to be absolutely definite about this, since the start of a project has always tended to bleed into the end of the previous one for me, but looking back at my blog posts I reckon Red Country took about 22 months to write, or at least I was in a similar position with The Heroes at the end of September 2010. By the same assessment, The Heroes took about 19 months and Best Served Cold around 21. The timings on the trilogy are lost in the mist of time but then things were different and more hobby-ish for much of that period, without a contract or even any serious intention of getting one while I was writing The Blade Itself, so it’s tough to compare. I’ve a vague recollection that Last Argument of Kings took about 14 months – way my fastest book as well as my longest – but then I was bringing in characters and situations that were already well established, which is a lot easier than working out new ones.
I’d like to be working a bit faster than a book every 22 months, that’s for sure. They say a year is the ideal and I’m not honestly sure I’d ever hit that but 18 months would be nice. Still, a lot of life stuff going on (when isn’t there?), and the more books you sell the more promotion and travelling you end up getting involved with. Having seen how hard GRRM was working in Aviles recently I’m kind of impressed he gets anything written at all. In the end, a book just takes as long as it takes, and there it is.
From a pain standpoint, Red Country was pretty painful. Not quite as bad as Best Served Cold, but a good deal worse than The Heroes. The profile was similar to Best Served Cold, actually – a lot of doubts early on about the whole idea, and about one of the two central point of view characters in particular, and therefore half the plot, really. The first three of the five parts were slow, difficult going. At one stage we were looking at pushing publication back to January. But it actually helped to be somewhat forced to bring it back into this year. Sometimes you need a kick up the ass. Things started to motor a bit more in parts 4 and 5, and by the time I finished the last part I had a very good idea where I wanted to go, and was able to pull things together pretty quickly for the second draft, working a lot more solidly and efficiently than I had been. That difficult character now works a hell of a lot better, and actually has gone from being very much the secondary one to being the central character in some ways. It’s interesting that the experience of having gone through pretty much exactly this with Best Served Cold didn’t actually help me that much with Red Country. It’s also interesting that The Heroes went so much more smoothly when it is, in many ways, a far more complicated book, at least from a plotting standpoint. The writing life is a mystery, all right…