This is a fascinating state of affairs for me. I will tell you why.
But first, let me say this. I love writing villains. I love dreaming them up, deciding on their quirks, their monstrosities, and the cuts of their bespoke suits (I’m looking at you, Walker). I love choosing which slivers of humanity to reveal, and when. I love when my beloved beta-reading genius editor kids tell me, “No, that’s not too scary. I think he could be a little scarier. And by the way, are you going to write more about Jake Limberleg?”
I love villains so much that, from time to time, they turn up in my head before the hero does. It may surprise you that this is what happened with The Boneshaker. That’s right; Jake Limberleg surfaced before Natalie Minks. The Broken Lands was a little bit different. I knew the villains in advance, but I knew the main characters in advance, too; and unlike Natalie, I knew them just as well, maybe better, than High Walker and Bloody Bones, the folks they were going to go up against.
So now we come to my current project. Let’s call it Peculiar Springs, since this is what it’s called in my head. This one is coming together in an entirely different way: the place happened first. This has happened to me before, too, but I didn’t start thinking about a book set in that place until I discovered I had a protagonist and a villain in mind. Fortunately, the minute I began building the Peculiar Springs Hotel in my head, I knew immediately who was going to have an adventure there, and why–partly because I was looking for an adventure idea for this particular character. Let’s call her…well, let’s just tell the truth and say it’s Natalie.
So now I have a place and I have Natalie. In the last month, since this idea first occurred to me, you would not believe the details that have come together for this story. This is how I always know I’m on the right track. Unrelated strange and interesting things suddenly reveal their connections to each other. I read something I’ve really been looking forward to, and immediately I see how it relates to Natalie in Peculiar Springs. Five or six different characters have shown up and come to life. But the one who hasn’t turned up yet is the villain.
So I’m ready to get moving, to start writing–and I’m missing my adversary. This is not normal. I always know who the villain is, because the villain is half the fun for me. What to do?
Well, I imagine everybody has her/his own way of dealing with a missing story point. When I have a story problem, I have one of two tried-and-true routes I can take to find the answer. I can drag Nathan to our local diner, feed him chicken fingers and fries, and attempt to talk through the problem until one of us finds a solution. More often than not, it’s Nathan who finds it; I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I’m lucky my husband isn’t a writer. He is the best bizarre-o idea guy there is.
Alternatively, I can go back to my research. However, research turns easily and sneakily into procrastination. Furthermore, I tend to find answers the same way I find stories: unrelated stuff starts coming together. So the answer to any given story problem is just as likely to be found in a book that doesn’t appear to be in any way related to the story at hand, as in one that does. This makes it very difficult to know if I’m actually being productive or procrastinating again.
Still, today I go in search of my villain.
This is a strange state of affairs for another reason: this villain, whoever he or she is, has to fit into the Boneshaker world, which is increasingly becoming weblike and interconnected. Two books have been announced, and I have three more mapped out, including the book that’s the conclusion of the series. Each book provides information to inform the ones that follow. There are patterns to the characters. There is a Plan.
And now there’s Peculiar Springs, which was not originally part of the trajectory. It’s not part of the Plan. Except…except as things come together, there’s evidence that it might require the Plan to be revised. But for sure it doesn’t follow the same patterns as the rest. This is making the Villain Problem more complicated, and I hadn’t considered it before I started thinking about a potential additional Natalie adventure. And now the story’s too far developed in my head to put aside.
The adversary could be anybody. But once that person turns up, the whole pattern of the books that follow potentially changes. Because I’ve figured one thing out: this villain does not have a connection to the villainous connective tissue of the Boneshaker books, the green-eyed drifter called Jack. I sort of suspect this villain is something totally different from the rest of the uncanny roamers of this world. Which makes it likely this villain is something wholly new, even to me.
Or maybe not.
I am dying to find out who this person is.