Writing Nowadays–Surprise!

In February of 2012, I finished The Dragon Menunder pressure that made the wreck of the Titanic look like a vacuum bottle. My family life had taken a dreadfully difficult turn, you see, and three months before the book was due, I had finished exactly one chapter. When I called my editor to beg for an extension, however, she said the book was already listed in sales catalogs, and tardiness would cause . . . problems.

In the end, I all but destroyed myself and finished the book on time. It comes out November 6, and you can probably spot my state of mind in the book’s climax.  When I sent the final manuscript to my grateful editor, my writing circuits were totally fried. Just updating my personal blog was too much. Hell, even my Twitter feed dropped like a dead sparrow.  I knew the words would return eventually, but I needed a few months off first.

That was okay. The trilogy had ended. I had no deadline. I could take that breather.

A few weeks later, my editor called. Surprise! She wanted a fourth Clockwork Empire novel.

“Sorry,” I sputtered.  “A fourth?  But this was a trilogy.”

“It was,” she replied with editorial cheer.  “But The Dragon Men just blew me away, darling! We have to follow it with another book.”

“I haven’t even thought of another book,” I whimpered.  “I’m done. The story ended. There’s nothing left to tell.”

“Now, now, dear,” she purred, “you don’t have to use the same protagonists. You could introduce new ones. Give it some thought and let me know by Tuesday.  Oh, and we’ll need the manuscript in four months so we can keep releasing one of your delicious Clockwork Empire book every May and November. Ta!”


I had nothing.  I mean diddily over squat.  I was still burned out from the last book.  My reputation as a fast writer comes from the fact that when I sit down to start the actual writing, I’ve already done about four months of planning, so what looks like six months of writing is actually more like a year’s worth of work.  I didn’t even have an idea. How could I go from nothing to a full manuscript in four months?

I know, I know.  Ican hear the pity violins playing already: “An editor is begging you for a book and you’re complaining? May god curse me with such problems!”  But I’m bringing this up for a reason.

Always, always, always have an idea in mind for another book or story to follow your current one.  Just in case.

Ideas are cheap, really. Most authors come up with three or four a week.  It’s why writers cringe when non-writers say, “I have this great idea for a book. How about I give it to you and you write it, and we’ll split the money fifty-fifty?”

So keep an idea ready, no matter what. You might need it.  I’m living proof.

What did I do?  I went for a long walk to think.  When I came back, I had a germ of an idea: a man who hunts down clockworkers–mad scientists–and kills them.  Out of this, I was able to spin The Havoc Machine.  I turned it in to my purring editor last month.

And yes, I’ve taken my own advice, and I have another idea ready to go for a fifth Clockwork Empire novel.  Just in case we have another surprise.

–Steven Harper Piziks


The Impossible Cube (a novel of the Clockwork Empire) available at bookstores everywhere.

The Silent Empire collection now available at Book View Cafe!

Full selection available at http://www.bookviewcafe.com/index.php/Browse-by-Author#StevenHarperPiziks



Writing Nowadays–Surprise! — 1 Comment

  1. Sympathies on a very stressful year — and conga rats on pulling this out! I just picked up the first book and am looking forward to it. They were front and center at the steampunk convention I went to a few weeks ago.

    I am following your advice and making sure that I have a follow-up to every book I’m currently marketing. Because you never know when something is going to catch fire — in book rankings or on an editor’s desk!