Back in the 1990s, when no one wanted to accept my pitches for SF novels, I took a shot at a semi-SF crime thriller. The idea had been kicking around in my head for several years, and I figured this was as good a time as any to take a shot at it.
So I got going, and let my new agent know what I was up to. He told me to complete the the whole manuscript; only then would he try to market it.
This was a long way from selling a novel with a phone call, and I was busy with teaching and journalism that took little time and paid—word for word—far better than novels ever had. But I said OK, and four years later I sent the agent the manuscript. When you don't have a publisher's deadline, it's tough to keep a novel at the top of the priority list.
Six weeks later the ms. came back with a terse note: "None of here can think 'blockbuster' about this book." No advice for revising it, which on one or two occasions I'd had from other agents. So I fired my agent, and turned to nonfiction—which has done pretty well over the past decade.
Writing novels is no longer something I do to prove something, much less to make money; it's interesting only for the technical challenges. That's why I've been pecking away at Henderson's Tenants for years, because it poses some interesting problems in storytelling.
And the same is true with this abandoned project, which I used to call Stone. (Never did like the title.) I still see it as a tongue-in-cheek satire of the thriller genre, which may have deprived it of blockbusterhood. But the genre still deserves being satirized, and in the last few weeks I've come up with some ideas for reviving the story.
The original draft was set in the US for a simple reason: Most Americans don't read stuff that isn't set in the US. Now, since I don't care whether it ever gets published in the US, or published at all, I'm moving the setting to Canada (which also offers some intriguing possibilities for satire).
The original draft was written in the early days of the web, and that dates it more than anything else. So I'm trying to figure out how to bring it up to the second decade of the 21st century, both technologically and politically. This is fun. (I also had fun extracting it from a file using a word processor no longer supported by anyone in the world.)
The first chapter or so has been relatively easy to change. But now the hard part begins: When my hero went on the lam originally, he ran from Vermont to Iowa. Now he's running from the coast of British Columbia to...where? Somewhere in Canada, somewhere that's a microcosm of the country and North America in general.
When I run into a problem like this, I usually write myself a letter about it, and I also walk the dogs. These are ways to organize my thoughts about the story. The dogs can expect a lot of walks in the next few days, even if we're currently in a heat wave.