Filed under: Red Planet Blues, Writing.
A few weeks ago, I was interviewed by John DeNardo of Kirkus for an article about expanding short works into novels, which is what I’d done with my latest book, Red Planet Blues.
The full by-email interview is below, and here is the finished article, with a couple of my quotes used and quotes from other authors, as well.
1. Why did you choose to extend the shorter story to novel length?
In February 2004, Hugo Award-winning author Mike Resnick approached me with an offer I couldn’t refuse: write a “science-fictional hard-boiled private-eye novella” for an original anthology he was editing for the Science Fiction Book Club called Down These Dark Spaceways.
That story, “Identity Theft,” went on to win Spain’s Premio UPC de Ciencia Ficción, which, at 6,000 euros, is the world’s largest cash prize for science-fiction writing. It was also a finalist for the Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy Award (“the Aurora”), as well as for the top two awards in the science-fiction field: the World Science Fiction Society’s Hugo Award (SF’s “People’s Choice Award”) and the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America’s Nebula Award (SF’s “Academy Award”) — making “Identity Theft” the first (and so far only) original publication of the SFBC ever to be nominated for either of those awards.
Over the years, I’d gotten so much fan mail for this novella, it seemed there’d be an appetite for further adventures of the character.
Also, frankly, following on the success of FlashForward, I want to sell another TV series, and Hollywood is way more likely to develop a best-selling novel than it is any short work, no matter how lauded that work might be.
2. Where does the original story fit into the novel? (Is it the first X chapters? Does the novel begin and end the same but is stuffed with new story components to make it meatier?)
In a slightly modified form, “Identity Theft” makes up the first ten chapters of the novel Red Planet Blues. The remaining thirty-seven chapters are all new (of the 105,000 words in the novel, 82,000 appear in Red Planet Blues for the first time).
I actually added about ten percent new material to those first ten chapters, but it was all description or bits of business that had occurred to me over the years. I didn’t change anything though; I wanted people who had read and remembered the original to not feel I was cheating just to make the rest of the novel work better. I was true to what I’d already established about the characters and settings; I didn’t change any of the in-story facts. Here’s an example of the new material:
When I’d first come here, I’d quipped that New Klondike wasn’t a hellhole — it wasn’t far enough gone for that. “More of a heckhole,” I’d said. But that had been ten years ago, just after what had happened with Wanda, and if something in the middle of a vast plain could be said to be going downhill, New Klondike was it. The fused-regolith streets were cracked, buildings — and not just the ones in the old shantytown — were in disrepair, and the seedy bars and brothels were full of thugs and con artists, the destitute and the dejected. As a character in one of the old movies I like had said of a town, “You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy.” New Klondike should have a sign by one of the airlocks that proclaims, “Twinned with Mos Eisley, Tatooine.”3. What were some of the challenges you faced in extending the story to novel length?
The biggest was to recapture the tone. I’d immersed myself in noir mystery fiction when writing “Identity Theft” back in 2004, and really do think I got the voice right then. But it had slipped away in the eight ensuing years, and I had to really struggle to make sure that the whole book had the same narrative voice.
Also, I learned a lesson: I thought it would be easier to create a novel this way; it turned out to be much harder. The word novel means “new,” and the best way to write one is by starting fresh.