When it was published in 1987, Swordspoint was a scandal, a cause célèbre – not so much because of The Gay, but because it was a Fantasy Novel! Without Magic! I subtitled it "A Melodrama of Manners;" then some wag dubbed it Mannerpunk, and a marketing genre was born.
I went on to publish two more novels set in the Riverside city (The Privilege of the Sword and The Fall of the Kings), plus a series of interconnecting short stories, delving into the lives of the daring, the desperate, the witty, the deadly friends and family of my Mad Bad Boys.
In 2015, the population of my unnamed city changed again, not just with new characters, but with new writers. And with the serial collaborative series Tremontaine, my entire world has changed (no pun intended).
The psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross posited 5 stages of grief we all go through when faced with losses large or small. But I have found these steps apply to many big changes in life: A breakup, a move, the realization that you left your wallet at home. . . .
. . . And, I lately found, when an old friend comes to you suggesting that you turn your beloved made-up world loose on a gang of co-writers so that you can publish a series of e-novellas about it.
"We're calling it Serial Box," visionary neo-publisher Julian Yap said. "It's going to be the HBO of e-publishing! There will be a story arc! And 13 episodes, with a new one out every week, just like TV! You can write the 'Pilot' and the Final Episode, and choose your writers and oversee their work to keep it in line with your own vision."
Someone, of course, has done Kübler-Ross one better and added two more stages, and it is to this list that I apply:
THE SEVEN STAGES OF TREMONTAINE
Shock or Disbelief
Me: Wait – why would you even want to do that? My "world" is just a City, really. A city that's a mix of everything I love about Elizabethan London, 18th century Paris, English Regency novels, Richard Lester's Three Musketeers, Jacobean revenge drama, Damon Runyon and 1980s New York. No biggie. It's just . . . you know, a city. An unnamed city in a fantasy series without magic.
Julian: I love your city. Everyone loves your city. I personally want to read more things set in your city. And I want all the people who've never read Swordspoint, The Privilege of the Sword and The Fall of the Kings to know about it and love it, too.
Me: OK, but nobody else gets to write about my characters! And no material that takes place during the three existing Riverside novels or the new one I'm working on. So we'll have to set it at least ten years before Swordspoint . . . which means we can have the middle-aged background characters in Swordspoint be the young main characters in Tremontaine. Origin stories! That could be cool . . . .
Julian: Why don't we set it fifteen years before Swordspoint, then? Because we might want a Season Two (or Five…).
Me: But we'll need well-known authors to commit to writing three novellas in about six months. What person with an existing following is going to want to play in my sandbox? And who has the time?
Julian: The entire generation of fantasy writers who grew up loving your work will jump at the chance to write in your world.
Me: Oh, sure.
Me: Plus I have to write a Series Bible?! Why can't they just read the books?
And I'm supposed to then let other people introduce new ideas into my world?
I'm being a jerk, aren't I? Really, I love collaborating. With the right people. I've written for theater, I've created live shows with musicians…. And, er, actually, the third Riverside novel, The Fall of the Kings, was co-written with my new girlfriend (now wife of 19 years), Delia Sherman, who had a lot of ideas about the University. . . . And what about Bordertown, the shared world anthology I worked on with Terri Windling?
Calls Terri Windling. Terri tells funny stories about editing Bordertown series before the Internet and talks me down off the ledge, plus wise advice.
Me: Just because you were right about the other authors doesn't mean I'm giving up control. Alaya Dawn Johnson, Malinda Lo and Joel Derfner are a fabulous lineup. But why not draw on the fanfic community for a one-shot from Racheline Maltese and Patty Bryant? And let's bring in Paul Witcover as Special Guest. Because I love his work. And he's the only critic who's ever truly understood me.
Plus I have some ideas for cover artists. This Australian woman, Kathleen Jennings, has done these amazing silhouettes for—
You do? She said yes?
Wow. That was fast.
** I suppose under "Bargaining" I should also include the three-day weekend in which we all met in my living room an roughed out the characters and series arc and horse-traded for who wrote which chapter. But our producer Racheline Maltese (affectionately called the Showrunner or She Who Must Be Feared) has done a thorough job of describing that process here. My only quibble is: they weren't bagels, they were chocolate chip cookies. * *
Me: Oh my god, what have I gotten my friends into? This is a lot of work! We are spending hours together on Slack and GoogleChat working out the details of this incredibly complicated plot we saddled ourselves with! And arguing about which actor the duke should look like, and who gets to write the episode with the first kiss, and how the Mayans made chocolate and what kind of math you'd need to know in order to invent Celestial Navigation . . . .
We cannot make these deadlines. We cannot make these deadlines. We cannot make these deadlines. What if everyone hates this? What if nobody reads it? Does the cover look too girly? Does our plot even make sense? Why does everyone's story have a great title but mine?
Acceptance and Hope
Tremontaine launched on October 28th, 2015. The first story, titled simply: "Arrivals," is mine. And it's free: we're hoping you'll want to subscribe to what happens next. Which makes me realize how high the stakes were for the Pilot. And how grateful I am that no one really explained this to me at the time.
It's late November, and a funny thing is happening. People who've never heard of me and my work are reading Tremontaine. And liking it. Somehow, I didn't expect that. And they're blogging their reactions episode by episode, which is like reading over someone's shoulder as they take in your work. All of our work. We co-authors can watch them trying to guess what will happen next, watch them falling in love with Micah the Gender-ambivalent Math Genius and guessing whether the passionate Rafe Fenton is romantic or wrong-headed. . . .
I accept, hope, and even rejoice.
For more insight into Tremontaine, see this amazing post by our showrunner Racheline Maltese.