Richard Wright

author of strange, dark fictions


Developing Hiram I – Synchronised Cats

With the release of the first two Hiram Grange novellas (the first, Hiram Grange and the Village of the Damned, arrived in India today) I hope that some of you might be familiar with the titular character by now.  If you’ve been reading here, you almost certainly know that he takes centre stage in five linked novellas, and that the last one, Hiram Grange and the Nymphs of Krakow, due in April, is penned by yours truly.  My involvement in Hiram’s scandalous adventures goes a little deeper than that of author though, and I thought it might be interesting, in the run up to that final book, to give you a peek behind the curtain at how it all happened.  Hence this, the first of three or four irregular pieces about the development of Hiram, from my point of view, running up to the publication of Nymphs.

I first became involved with Shroud Publishing when they bought my story ‘Secrets (Never Told)’ for their Beneath the Surface anthology.  On April 8th, 2008, I popped by Shroud’s message boards to see if there was any news on of that book, and saw instead a post from Tim Deal, owner and editor at Shroud, titled An Idea.  It read:

“I have an idea for a novella series featuring recurring characters–pulpy but intelligent and featuring a base but lovable antihero.

The novellas would be generated by a pool of authors.

PM me if you are interested in learning more.

This is all in the idea stage.”

All very mysterious, and I was in two minds about whether to respond.  It felt like being picked up in a bar by somebody who looked normal enough on the inside, but had a strange little glint in the eye.  Glints like that could indicate upcoming fun of the best kind, or an awkward fumble that could only lead to somebody getting stalked.

My first reaction, intrigue, came about because the idea chimed with a project I’d considered embarking on myself, a series of linked stories following one set of characters, at novella or novelette length (an idea that has not been put aside, and may well be something I follow up in 2010).  I’d also recently worked on my Doctor Who story ‘Lonely’, and had a great deal of fun.  The idea of working in another ‘shared world’ was appealing.

On the other hand, I’ve been involved in at least three attempts to collaborate in creating shared world projects in the last ten years, in which editors with the best of intentions have gathered authors together for some grand act of collaboration.  They all fell apart.  Get a bunch of authors committed to one project over a lengthy period of time, and there are certain problems that will almost certainly rear their heads. Authors are solitary animals, unlike actors.  I used to be an actor, and they’re pack animals by trade necessity.  There are certainly struggles within that pack, as the hierarchy establishes in each group, and everybody vies for attention, but it’s all underwritten by the knowledge that if people don’t pull together to some extent, everybody will come out of things badly.

Authors, on the other hand, are arch, solitary creatures, used to holding their ideas close to their chest, shutting the world away while they get on with their own business.  Trying to get authors to commit to something, especially something that might not be their idea in the first place, and then getting them to stay committed for the duration… well, it’s like trying to teach synchronised swimming to cats.  Curiosity might draw their attention, but holding it under adversity is a gift few editors can master.  Some will lose interest, others might find themselves with more immediate deadlines that pull them away, the whole endeavour might just run out of steam before it’s ready for the printed page…

The actor in me has taken a long time to die completely, and so I usually say yes to such collaborations before I think it through.  The idea of committing to another such project and have it collapse was not appealing.  Shroud Publishing, at the time, was also a new press.  I liked the editor, and I liked how Beneath the Surface turned out, but the independent press is littered with the corpses of promising start-ups that died within a few books of operation.  At that point, there was no way of knowing whether the company would die before anything saw print.

I ummed.  I aaahed.  Obviously, I eventually sent Tim a tentative message, expressing sort-of-interest depending on what he had in mind.

Others did the same.  Jake Burrows.  Scott Christian Carr.  Rob Davies.  Kevin Lucia.

Then, Tim told us what he was planning, and we found out whether we were going to sink, or (synchronised) swim.

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