Over at The Atlantic’s website, you’ll find my 6,500-word behind-the-scenes essay about writing and touring behind The Southern Reach Trilogy. It’s a kind of tell-all and as such that comes with certain risks.
Revealing weakness or eccentricity can influence a reader who then goes on to read the novels. Being candid about the life of a full-time writer—which is both fraught with uncertainty and one of the best jobs you can have—is also dangerous, especially when many think book tours don’t happen any more and that most writers self-publish. Encountering a narrative suggesting that traditional publishing is still going strong can be bracing. Encountering a narrative suggesting that you can be a full-time writer can be bracing, too. (Full disclosure: I’ve been full-time since 2007, but sometimes made my living from editing anthologies and writing nonfiction, and until recently I supported only myself, with a firewall between my finances and my wife’s finances—for her protection.)
The issue of all three novels being published in one year led off a New York Times article on “binge reading,” which raises the question, too, of “binge writing.” Yet any writer will tell you that you can spend a decade writing a bad novel and nine months writing a good one. Depends on the situation and the novel. In my case, I was lucky to have more uninterrupted time to work on the Southern Reach than ever before, if in a slightly compressed number of months. Although not mentioned in the essay, I was given additional time, too, during the editing phase. FSG was kind enough to let me make substantial changes long after the proof pages would be locked down in a simple proof-read. That, and a disciplined day-to-day writing schedule—something that in its sheer repetition doesn’t make for good reading in an essay—brought me through and meant the novels as-published are exactly as I meant for them to be.
Along the way, I had really amazing editing from Sean McDonald and great support from everyone over at FSG. Publicist Alyson Sinclair was amazing, too. When you know you have that kind of support, it makes the writing and revising very easy. You’re willing to take more risks and you relax into the writing. It also helped that I had a partner in my wife, Ann, with whom I could discuss scenes in progress and novel drafts when finished. She also took a lot of other projects off of my plate, meaning she did almost all the work on our time travel anthology and took over management of other book projects, too.
I’m also truly blessed and fortunate that so very many readers have embraced the Southern Reach trilogy. So, what the hell–why not a tell-all? It’s certainly in the tradition of my usual “debriefings,” including this one about City of Saints and Madmen. (Thanks to the Atlantic for their enthusiasm, too–really great people over there.).