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Write Now with Scrivener, Episode no. 9: Charlie Stross, Science-Fiction Author

Charlie Stross is a prolific author of science fiction in a variety of sub-genres and styles, and has won multiple Hugo awards.

Charlie Stross is a prolific author of science fiction and fantasy. He has written more than two dozen novels, has won three Hugo awards, and has been nominated for many other awards, including the John W. Campbell Memorial Award, the Arthur C. Clarke Award, and the Japanese Seiun Award.

Show notes:

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Charlie Stross is a prolific author of science fiction and fantasy. He has written more than two dozen novels, has won three Hugo awards, and has been nominated for many other awards, including the John W. Campbell Memorial Award, the Arthur C. Clarke Award, and the Japanese Seiun Award.

Charlie's path to becoming a writer was not linear. "I was at school in the 1970s to 1980s. I had to make my decision on what career path to do from O levels in 1980, which was the year Margaret Thatcher put 3 million people on the dole in one go."

So he sought advice. "The careers advice I got was, no, you can't go to university and do anything that will help you become a writer. Get a real job. My next best aptitude according to the careers testers was to become a pharmacist." But that job didn't last long. "Seven years later, I bombed out of it completely, after the second time the shop I was running was staked out for an armed robbery in one month."

In the meantime, Charlie had discovered new technology. "I discovered the joy of word processors and had been writing at home, and began teaching myself to program," in order to add features that weren't available. He did a night school course in computer science, and "I ended up iterating through technical author and software developer during the early days of the dotcom boom, before landing a magazine column in the computer press and moving sideways into more and more fiction and less and less freelance journalism."

Charlie has written more than 30 novels, and his fiction includes multiple series. One series, The Laundry Files, wasn't initially indented to be a series. "It started out as a one-shot short novel about a guy called Bob, who's basically a sandal-wearing Slashdot reading dotcom-one era geek, who's accidentally fallen into a Len Deighton spy agency, tasked with defending the UK against intrusions by Lovecraftian horrors. I it gradually developed a life of its own as they asked for a sequel and then more, and, before I knew what had happened, I'd actually developed an entire world."

With science-fiction series novels, you need to ensure that new readers can get into the books without reading the whole backlist. "There are multiple entry point novels. I realized a few books in that it is terrible to get to grips with a series with that much backstory. So book five of the Laundry Files is a new entry point, if you haven't read the previous four, as is book seven."

Charlie likes to talk about how the publishing business works. "In traditional publishing, you are not selling your book to the public. What you're selling your book to is your editor, who is actually a workflow manager inside a large corporation. And their job is to feed a pipeline with sausages at a rate of about five or 10 sausages a month, where each sausage is a book from somebody. And the sausages go through a quality control process called marketing. Because what they're controlling for is sell it saleability. So you're trying to sell your book to an editor, your editor is trying to sell it to the marketing department. And the absolute easiest pitch for an editor to sell a book to the marketing department is, it's just like the last one only slightly different or is a continuation of last one. They know what they're buying then."

It's hard keeping track of everything that happens in Charlie's series, which each cover more than one million words. He doesn't keep track of what's going on very well, so he's come up with a strategy to hedge against forgetting. For the Laundry Files series, "I set Bob, the narrator, up in Book Two as a horribly unreliable narrator. If Bob says something is true, it's almost certainly wrong. Unreliable narrators are useful because then you can say, 'Oh, I said so and so? I was wrong.'"

Charlie started using Scrivener back in 2008. He had a third of a million of words written in his Merchant Princess series, "And I figured I had three timelines. I needed some way of refactoring all the scene breaks and wherever scenes were. And Scrivener looked like a tool that would stop me from sort of drowning in a morass of characters in different timelines. I could use the multi-select to edit disjoint Scrivenings and see an entire single timeline as a single scroll of text regardless of where it fell in the with stuff in between."

Charlie gives some advice to young writers, recalling Robert Heinlein's advice from the 1930s. "Keep writing. Finish what you start. Send it out on submission. If it fails to sell, send it out again. Don't rewrite until somebody asks for a rewrite. Some of this advice is a bit dated, but the key advice, keep writing, finish what you start, is an eternal truth."

Kirk McElhearn is a  writerpodcaster, and photographer. He is the author of Take Control of Scrivener, and host of the Write Now with Scrivener podcast.

Kirk McElhearn is a writer, podcaster, and photographer. He is the author of Take Control of Scrivener, and host of the podcast Write Now with Scrivener.

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