QUEEN OF DEMONS, my second Isles fantasy, uses the structure of Lord of the Isles, so it was simpler to write than if I’d had to construct an entire world. Nonetheless there was the challenge of how much of the first book to recapitulate in the new one. In the event I repeated very little.
With the exception of Standing Down (written to close the first Hammer collection) every one of my novels and stories has a beginning, a middle, and an end. That means basically that I have to reintroduce continuing characters at the opening of each book, but I don’t give any more of their backgrounds than readers need to know to understand the current plot.
This isn’t a new situation for me: I’ve been writing stories in series since 1971, starting with the Vettius-Dama fantasies and in 1973 the first of the Hammer’s Slammers series which is still humming along today. (For what it’s worth, I didn’t expect Black Iron or The Butcher’s Bill to start series when I wrote them. That just happened.) Because the Isles series is deliberately open-ended–that is, I started with the intention of writing in the series for as long as the market wanted more books and I wanted to write them–it was doubly important that each installment be self-standing.
Queen of Demons , like the other books in the series, is told from four interwoven viewpoints. I’m just not the guy to write a 200,000 word novel–but I can write four 50K novels and draw them very tightly together at the climax.
I didn’t want more than four viewpoint characters, however. Steve Stirling and Eric Flint are both very skilled writers, but they consistently take about twice as many words as I would when they develop one of my plots. There are various reasons for the difference, but I believe the most important one is their tendency to use more viewpoint characters than I would.
Queen draws plot elements are from varied sources–I have eclectic tastes and will steal ideas from almost anybody. The outline of the Beast whom King Valence III serves came from the Shah Nama . The germ of the inhuman body in the wine cask was from Trader Horn , of all things. (The book, that is, not the mediocre movie. Oddly enough it actually does repay reading; though I might have said the same thing about Finnegan’s Wake if I’d devoted as much effort to Joyce as I did Horn/Lewis.)
The intelligent ape Zahag (a chimp, not a gorilla) had been bubbling in the back of my mind ever since I read the Greek story (maybe ascribed to Aesop?) of a fellow who taught apes to dance: all went well till somebody tossed nuts onto the dance floor. Intelligence and culture aren’t the same thing, and a beast remains a beast however intelligent it may be.
And the scale-hunter Hanno was based on Mountain Men like Liver-Eating Johnson, though Hanno is a very cleaned-up version of the real thing. Remember the point I made above? I could amplify it by saying that a beast remains a beast even if it happened to have been born in Boston before moving to the Rockies to hunt scalps.
I frequently use the paintings of Hieronymous Bosch (and occasionally those of the elder Breughel) either directly as settings or indirectly for what they kick off in my mind while I look at them. I did some of both while I was plotting and developing Queen.
As a general rule, I plot books scene by scene. That is, what you read is arranged in the order I composed the plot. With Queen I decided to vary my technique. I created the plot by following each of the four characters for the requisite number of scenes, then braiding them together.
I won’t say the technique didn’t work–I mean, there’s a book, after all–but it resulted in a lot of waste effort. I wound up reassigning business between characters–from Sharina to Ilna in particular–and I still had a lot of great ideas left over. (Waste not, want not: business intended for Queen wound up in Servant of the Dragon and Goddess of the Ice Realm . Very possibly it’d been improved by fermenting longer in the back of my brain.)
Oh–one more thing before I close: my friend Jennie Faries read the novel in mss. She phoned one afternoon and said, “Killer penguins?” No, no, no: those are giant versions of the Creataceous swimming bird Hesperornis … which, okay, you could think of as a penguin with teeth.
I learned a lot in the process of writing Queen ; and I had an enormous amount of fun. I decided I was beginning to get the hang of writing Big Fat Fantasies… and that was a particularly good thing, because I intended to write a lot more of them.