My friend Mark Van Name is, among other things, a business consultant. After I sold the final trilogy in the Isles Series to Tor but before I started work on the three books, he asked me if I would like him to do a business analysis of the Isles fantasies. I said I would appreciate that. (It would never have occurred to me to ask.)
Mark shortly provided a written report, which he went over with me. I won’t describe his methodology, but even if it hadn’t seemed valid on its face, I would have accepted it anyway: Mark is an expert on the subject; I am not. I don’t argue with experts in their own fields.
Mark’s most significant recommendation was that I structure the final trilogy as a whole–that is, plotting all three books (at least in rough) before I started writing the first one. I have worked very hard to make every one of my books self-standing. Fantasy readers today are so used to trilogies, however, that they expect to have to read books in order of publication. My fantasies, therefore, didn’t have quite the right feel.
I thought about this for some while, then created a three-book arc in which the world of the Isles changes at the end of each volume. The result of the changes was explored in the next volume in the first two cases, and the whole nine-book series is completed with a crash at the end of the last. The individual volumes would have limited problems of their own which would be solved in that volume, but you would gain a great deal if you read the first volume before you read the second, and the trilogy’s third volume climax grows directly from events in the first.
Then I did a detailed plot of the first book, The Fortress of Glass, and wrote it.
This isn’t terribly different from the way I worked on the first six Isles novels (or for that matter, different from the way I’ve written most of my other series novels). Basically, I knew the situation and climax of the two following books, but I knew also that I would have to work out the details of those novels in the light of what actually appeared in the pages of the first one. I compose detailed outlines, but the personalities of the characters develop considerably from the sketches the outlines provide.
The plot background of The Fortress of Glass stemmed from two SF works which I read when I was 14: Spawn, a 1939 novelette by P Schuyler Miller, and Star Bridge, a 1955 novel by Jack Williamson and James E Gunn. I recommend both of these works strongly, though in the case of the novel, I doubt you’ll be able to determine what I stole and placed at the core of my own work.
Details of plot business came variously; I’ll mention one, but rest assured that it stands for many. The funeral early in the book is based on the funeral of Septimius Severus, as described by Herodian (who was present). I considerably simplified the real event. I’m well read in the classics, and I find it a great deal easier (and more satisfying) to steal from history than to invent things myself.
There’s one other thing to be said about this novel. When I plotted the three-book arc, I realized it would be necessary to kill two major supporting characters in order to justify the actions of the second and third volumes.
It frankly never crossed my mind that people would think that I had killed the characters casually. People, nothing in my writing is casual. It was necessary for the course of the trilogy that one of my major characters become a genocidal monomanic, so that she could come to terms with herself for the first time, and so that she could find happiness in the climax.
Well, as much happiness as her kind, which is pretty much my kind, can hope for.
What I did infuriated a lot of people, which I regret. I think the fact that I described the event and its immediate aftermath with an absolutely flat affect contributed to their sense of outrage.
Under the circumstances I describe, your emotions do shut down. Anybody who’s been in hard places can testify to that; but a lot of readers, particularly fantasy readers, don’t have that personal experience to draw from. To them, I was being casual and uncaring.
Would I do the same thing again? Yes, because I was absolutely correct in terms of the trilogy as a whole; and I’d do it the same way, because I will not fantasize when I’m writing about violence.
But if I do it another time, I’ll know from the beginning that many people won’t understand.
The Fortress of Glass. Crown of the Isles Trilogy. 2006, New York, NY: Tor. 384 p. 076531259X. $25.95.
————– 2007, New York, NY: Tor. 402 p. 978-0-765-35116-6 (pb) $7.99.