I’ve frequently had fans (I have fans!) tell me “I love your books but I have a hard time explaining them to people.”
Now, there’s nothing wrong with this! My books aren’t much like what people picture in their minds when they think “fantasy novel.” I have skyscrapers and deathless kings and law wizards and offshore banking and jet pack dragonflies and zombie field labor and water utilities and all sorts of crazy stuff. I wrote the Craft Sequence in part because I had ideas I didn’t remember seeing before, and I wanted to get those ideas out of my head so they could nest in other peoples’ brains and remake all their gray matter into juicy gooey Idea Stuff, I mean, um, hold on a second, I wasn’t supposed to write that out loud, I’m sure I left my notes around here somewhere.
Whenever I hear a fan say that sentence, though, I get a touch nervous—because in publishing you hear over and over again that “word of mouth sells books.” Word of mouth is only part of the story, of course: money spent on good marketing sells books, innovative approaches to distribution sell books, booksellers sell books, etc. But word of mouth does, certainly, work. Now, the Craft Sequence is selling well. It’s just that, if readers have trouble explaining to people what this book they’re excited about is, it might be harder for them to convince other people who’d like the books to read them!
Fortunately, I’ve given a lot of thought to this issue. Fact is, back when Three Parts Dead first hit stands I spent hours pacing back and forth debating what I’d say when someone asked, “what’s your book about?” I have one-line pitches and thematic notes. I can talk about my books in front of a room of people and walk out with them excited.
So, at the risk of sounding like a goof—and why should that phase me, I write books with wizards in them?—let me share the stuff I say.
Basic: I say some version of this sentence at least once in every panel: “The Craft Sequence books are set in a postindustrial fantasyland: gods with shareholders’ committees, necromancers in pinstriped suits, and soulstuff as currency.”
For Law, Finance, or Business People: “It’s your job, only with wizards.”
For Hardcore Genre People: “Phoenix Wright (or Wolfram & Hart, or whatever your favorite legal reference is) meets The Dragons of Babel.”
For People Who Communicate Solely in Hollywood-esuqe X-Meets-Y Elevator Pitches: “It’s LA Law with wizards.” (Or “meets Harry Potter,” for those with a more severe case of the condition.)
For Magic: the Gathering people: “It’s what would happen if House Dimir controlled the Azorius Senate.”
For People Who Dig On Theory: “Late-millennial market capitalism envisioned as a soul-siphoning necrocracy.”
Bonus: io9 compared the books to secondary world cyberpunk fantasy, which is pretty damn cool.
So far, none of my books has had a straight white male protagonist; the lead in my most recent book is transgendered. I’m writing a world here; it’d be a damn limited one if all my characters looked, spoke, screwed, and identified like me.
Three Parts Dead
Basic — “A junior associate at an international necromancy firm is hired to resurrect a dead god.” (Bonus points: this is the pitch that actually found me an agent!)
For Law, Finance, or Business People: “It’s about bankruptcy law, only the entity in bankruptcy protection is a dead god, and the attorneys are necromancers.”
Two Serpents Rise
For people who’ve seen Chinatown: “Dammit, Jake, it’s fantasyland.”
For people who haven’t seen Chinatown: “A risk manager for an undead utilities magnate tracks down terrorists poisoning his city’s water.”
(Also, politely invite them to a screening of Chinatown, unless of course either of you has a moral objection to Roman Polanski. And honestly, if your only exposure to California water issues is Chinatown, you owe it to yourself to read more. The early chapters of Cadillac Desert are a good start.)
Full Fathom Five
Basic — “There’s this island where they build gods to order—but the gods are dying, and a priestess wants to find out why.”
For LFB people — “Offshore banking as a professional mystery cult. Plus there’s a really funny bit in here about The Economist.”
For Theology and Philosophy people — “There’s a long argument about creation myths and existentialism in the heart of an extinct volcano during a break-in.”
Choice of the Deathless
Honestly, this one seems to take care of itself. “Interactive necromantic legal thriller—you’re not the bad guy, you’re just his lawyer!” In the form of a Lone Wolf-style interactive choose-your-own adventure.
So there you go! I don’t know if this will be helpful at all. Regardless, now the resource exists! I may add to this over time.
In other news—the Ghostbusters post escalated quickly! Among other things, there was a great conversation about it over at Metafilter—including an excellent post by Charles Stross on Lovecraft. Stross observes that my representation of Lovecraft’s worldview along Apollonian / Dionysian lines doesn’t include HPL’s materialistic shock as a writer working at the moment science revealed the world to be much bigger, older, and more complicated than we’d ever thought before. Go check out that conversation.
Also, there’s a good chance I’ll be blogging more frequently over at Tor.com in the near future! Never fear—I’ll not leave you in the lurch. My Big Scheme is to post a little more multimedia content on this site as compensation, although I’m not sure what that would look like.