Please welcome Gabriel Squailia to The Qwillery. Viscera, their 2nd novel, was published on October 4th by Talos.
Pantsing vs. Plotting Your World
by Gabriel Squailia
It took me ten years to figure out how to write a novel. Since I couldn’t get a groove going, I just kept building the world—and building, and building, and building. By the time I got where I was going, it was so real to me I just had to put it all on the page.
From the moment I had the idea to the last edit of the final draft, it took fourteen years to write that book. Then I sat down at the desk and realized I was about to do the whole thing again. I could see myself getting into the same twitches, the same doubts, the same false starts, and I knew I’d be lucky to get off with a five-year commitment.
So, inspired by Robert Jackson Bennett’s excellent post about working under contract, I tried something completely different. I contacted Cory Allyn at Talos Press, who had worked with me to edit Dead Boys, and pitched him some ideas. I hoped to convince him to work with me from the beginning to the end of the process this time, so I could figure out what Real Writers Do.
From a menu of four pitches, he chose the one I’d come up with two weeks before. Others had maps and sourcebooks already developed; this one had a thousand-page first draft. Pretty soon we were signing a contract, on the strength of a revised opening scene and an outline I’d made up on the spot.
It did not escape my notice that there was no world this time. Nor was there time to build one—this wanted to be a book about characters, and to honor that I built two people who could give a damn about the political machinations that were churning up the world around them. Their quests were personal, and they were trying to forget history, not delve into it.
Are you a pantser or a plotter? Does that approach extend to the world around your characters? What I learned over the course of the next six months was that I’m a bit of both.
There is a comforting solidity to a writing in a world you’ve thoroughly designed. When someone puts their foot down, I know where it’s landing, and I can tell stories about the history of the paving-stones they’ve stepped on. On the other hand, I can get lost in those stones, and I’m constantly torn between moving the plot forward and taking detours to tell you more cool things I’ve invented.
Over in the Land of Pants, there’s nothing but the living present. It’s a terrifying, invigorating space to occupy, and it demands that I tell the truth—even about my floundering. Viscera, my second novel, is a book about navigating the brutal truths that emerge when we live through the most difficult times in our lives, and working without a safety net helped me do that concept justice. It was nerve-wracking, though, and I kept wondering, Is this allowed?
From the moment I had the idea to the final edit on the last draft, Viscera took nine months. It was a far faster process than my first time out, and I imagine (with that deceptive pride common to authors before pub day and the parents of newborns) that it’s more fun to read, too. Does that mean, then, that I’ve committed to pantsing my way through my next book, too?
Yes and no. My hope is to use what I’ve learned from both of these projects, and to treat all techniques as tools in my belt. Different novels, even different chapters, call for different approaches. I’d like to keep on reinventing the wheel, with memories of the last reinventions informing my process, all the way to the end, when I’m surrounded by these wobbly contraptions—with hopefully one or two that roll smoothly along the way.
I may never know what I’m doing when I sit down at the desk with a new idea. But from here on out, I’ll act as if I did, and build a world—however detailed, however sparse—to suit my mood.
Not quite knowing, but doing it anyway: isn’t that what Real Writers Do?
Talos, October 4, 2016
Trade Paperback and eBook, 304 pages
The Gone-Away gods were real, once, and taller than towers.
But they’re long dead now, buried in the catacombs beneath the city of Eth, where their calcified organs radiate an eldritch power that calls out to anyone hardy enough to live in this cutthroat, war-torn land. Some survivors are human, while others are close enough, but all are struggling to carve out their lives in a world both unforgiving and wondrous.
Darkly comic and viciously original, Viscera is an unforgettable journey through swords-and-sorcery fantasy where strangeness gleams from every nook and cranny.
Gabriel Squailia is an author and professional DJ from Rochester, New York. An alum of the Friends World Program, they studied storytelling and literature in India, Europe, and the Middle East before settling in the Berkshires of western Massachusetts with their partner and daughter. Squailia's first novel, Dead Boys, was published by Talos Press in 2015.
Talos Press, March 3, 2015
Trade Paperback and eBook, 320 pages
A decade dead, Jacob Campbell is a preservationist, providing a kind of taxidermy to keep his clients looking lifelike for as long as the forces of entropy will allow. But in the Land of the Dead, where the currency is time itself and there is little for corpses to do but drink, thieve, and gamble eternity away, Jacob abandons his home and his fortune for an opportunity to meet the man who cheated the rules of life and death entirely.
According to legend, the Living Man is the only adventurer to ever cross into the underworld without dying first. It’s rumored he met his end somewhere in the labyrinth of pubs beneath Dead City’s streets, disappearing without a trace. Now Jacob’s vow to find the Living Man and follow him back to the land of the living sends him on a perilous journey through an underworld where the only certainty is decay.
Accompanying him are the boy Remington, an innocent with mysterious powers over the bones of the dead, and the hanged man Leopold l’Eclair, a flamboyant rogue whose criminal ambitions spark the undesired attention of the shadowy ruler known as the Magnate.
An ambitious debut that mingles the fantastic with the philosophical, Dead Boys twists the well-worn epic quest into a compelling, one-of-a-kind work of weird fiction that transcends genre, recalling the novels of China Miéville and Neil Gaiman.