The Art of the Info Dump

The Unwritten Girl is moving forward. On Tuesday, I received the copy-edit copy of the manuscript. Basically, it’s a version worked over by the copy-editing document, correcting the little things left over after the major editorial revisions; a new comma here, a capitalized word there, one or two queries where the prose might be unclear. It’s extremely rare for the story to be changed significantly at this point; even so, the author is asked to look at the proof to make sure he or she likes all of the changes.

Dundurn’s copy editor had a pretty light hand. Even so, reading over the whole manuscript took a couple of days, in and among my day job and other household chores. I’m getting more and more excited about the release. I think I have a decent story here.

I was also sent an author questionaire by Dundurn’s publicity department. Dundurn’s known for making the most out of its publicity budget, and the questionaire was the beginning of the process of spending that publicity as efficiently as possible. Do I know contacts in the media who might be willing to give me some friendly publicity? Will I be taking a trip in the next four months, where targetted publicity might be available? (Unless Dundurn is willing to advertise in Des Moines and Lincoln, the answer is unfortunately, no)

I did let them know about my blog, and my contact with other blogs. And I’ve talked with a few other bloggers who have said they’d be willing to do a review. A number of these blogs are politics heavy, but I think some people like occasional breaks from politics and, when on a break, why not read a book? So, around April, look for reviews of The Unwritten Girl to appear around the blogosphere.

I’ll be working on Unwritten Girl stuff for the next few months. Despite this, I think it’s time to consider the next book. So I’ve started back on Fathom Five.

Fathom Five is the sequel to The Unwritten Girl. I know you’re not supposed to work on a sequel before the first story is even placed anywhere, but after finishing The Unwritten Girl back in 2001 (when it was Rosemary and Time), I was so intrigued by the characters of Rosemary and Peter and their developing relationship that I decided to push on. As a result, if The Unwritten Girl does well, the Dundurn Group has the ability to hit me up for not one but two sequels to the story (the third book is entitled The Young City). And, encouragingly, they supposedly like trilogies.

Even so, I’m nervous about Fathom Five. They say that the second book is as hard to write as the first. You have to live up to the expectations by the first book, and yet you have to show that you’re not a one-trick pony. Sequels have this problem even worse.

Fathom Five is set three years after the events of The Unwritten Girl. Peter and Rosemary are now fifteen, going on sixteen and are best friends. Despite, this, Peter feels out of place, an orphan from Toronto in small town Clarksbury. Worse, he fears that he has ruined his relationship with Rosemary by falling in love with her. As a result, he is easy pray for sirens who come, claiming he is a changeling that doesn’t belong to the world.

The story has more connection to the real world, such as it is. After setting The Unwritten Girl on the Bruce Peninsula, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the fictional town of Clarksbury is near the very real Fathom Five National Marine Park, a diver’s paradise so full of shipwrecks, it’s easy to believe siren legends could exist around this area. Still, communicating what sirens are, and the fictionalized legends that back this story requires a lot of information that isn’t easily distributed in anything other than a big block — that is to say, an info dump.

All authors advise: info dumps are to be avoided. Though they may provide information vital to the story, they interrupt the story, and the reader risks getting bored. The best approach is to let the information come out naturally as the story progresses, but if that isn’t possible, the next best approach is to try to be as brief and interesting as possible.

When Cameron was visiting this past weekend, he was kind enough to workshop the first couple of chapters of the story, including one scene in particular. The scene below has gone through several rewrites, and should go through several more by the time we’re ready to send a proposal to Dundurn. Initially, I had it as a story told by a substitute teacher in a desperate attempt to keep an unruly class at bay. I changed it to a story Peter and Rosemary’s friend Benson tells. Cameron told me that the key is to try to stay in Benson’s voice as much as possible and to keep it light. I’ll leave it to you to tell me how well I’ve succeeded, if at all.

When Peter next saw Rosemary, after the school bells summoned them from first period, she was pulling books from her locker amidst the torrent of students rushing between classes. She had her textbooks around her in neat piles, sorting through them for the one she had misplaced. Her face lit up when she saw him. “How did the French test go?”

The smile that had been on Peter’s face vanished. He began thumping his head on the nearest locker. “Oh, God! How do you say ‘I’m going to kill myself’ in French?”

“Um… Je vais me tuer, I think. But I thought you could do French in your sleep!”

“I’ve been having trouble sleeping, remember? I’ll be lucky if I get a “B’!”

“Oh, dear. But it will be all right, won’t it?”

“I’m just glad it’s over.”

Rosemary touched Peter’s shoulder comfortingly, and there they stayed a moment. The background chatter seemed to soften.

Then Benson barged in and opened his locker with a clatter, sending Peter and Rosemary scrambling apart. “Hey there!” he exclaimed. “How are the lovebirds today?”

Rosemary reddened and Peter flared. “We’re not lovebirds!”

“Yeah, yeah.” Benson’s voice came from deep within his locker. “Either of you figure out question four from our history assignment? Stumped me.”

“Benson!” Rosemary exclaimed. “The War of 1812 ended in 1814!”

“Yeah?” Benson closed his locker. “Then why do they just call it the War of 1812? Doesn’t make sense, does it? History never makes sense. Speaking of, you folks ready for your history presentation? I’ve got the coolest!”

“I’m not presenting till tomorrow,” said Rosemary.

“Just wait until you hear what I found out,” said Benson as they walked towards class. “It’s the spookiest tale you’ve ever heard!”

“Spooky?” Peter raised an eyebrow. “I don’t think Mr. Hunter likes “spooky’.”

“He’ll love this! Did you know this area’s like a Bermuda Triangle for the Great Lakes? I mean, they have the Fathom Five National Marine Park now, where people can dive and explore the shipwrecks, but a hundred years ago, there were legends about the place — ghost ships, sunken treasure, even Sirens!”

“Benson!” Rosemary exclaimed. “This is History, not Mythology!”

“But they teach Greek mythology in history, so why not Sirens?”

“Sirens?” asked Peter.

“You know, creatures like beautiful women, who tempt sailors onto the rocks with their song? Sort of sexy water vampires, like the Brides of Dracula?” Benson’s face took on a distant, contented look before he snapped back to the present. “Uh. Well, I found a story about this ship, the Lorelei, that got trapped on Lake Huron when we were at war with the Americans. Did you know we fought a war with the Americans?”

“Benson!” Rosemary exclaimed. “What do you think we’ve been studying for the past week?”

Benson shrugged. “I thought they were fighting the British. Anyway,” he continued, waving his hands, “the Lorelei had no cannons and lots of cargo. Captain Hoskins wouldn’t surrender, and he wouldn’t dump his load. Instead he hid in shallow coves, racing the narrow passages to keep from getting caught.

“His crew hated it. They’d heard the legends, but most laughed them off — until they heard voices, whispering off the cliffs and water. The captain shrugged it all off at first, but then he started acting weird. He started to take greater risks; suicidal risks, some said. Then a fog rose up, and the sailors saw lights surrounding them. But Hoskins wouldn’t stop the ship.”

Peter lifted an eyebrow. “You’re practising your presentation on us, aren’t you?”

“Would you like a flashlight to hold under your chin?” Rosemary asked sweetly.

“Ssh! Hoskins raced through the rocky channels blind. That’s when the sailors mutinied. They told him to sail the ship out into the lake and surrender. But Hoskins and the first officer tricked the crew into confronting them below decks. He and his first officer escaped up top, and nailed the doors shut. And then the ship struck rock and started to sink.”

Peter and Rosemary were listening, hanging on to Benson’s words despite themselves.

Benson grinned. “Here’s the really cool part: Hoskins tried to open the doors and save his men, but the ship sank like a rock. He lashed himself to the wheel so he could go down with his own ship.” Peter raised a hand. “Um, how do we know this?”

“The first officer,” said Benson. “He escaped and surrendered to the British, who searched for survivors. Five days later, they came upon a patch of water that frothed and bubbled, as though there was a ship below, leaking air. They couldn’t see bottom, though, and they had no way of going underwater to recover the drowned crew. But, years later, other ships passed the site and also saw the water frothing and bubbling. Some said the sailors could still be below, surviving on what little food and air they had left. To this day, the water still boils, but no ship dares approach anymore.”

“Wow,” said Rosemary. “Mass death. That’s quite a story.”

Benson beamed. “Yeah, isn’t it cool? So do you think the crew suffocated, or did they eat each other? I’m gonna try to start a debate. What do you think, Peter?”

“What do I think?” said Peter. “Try and put that past Mr. Hunter, and you might as well sign up for summer school right now.”

Benson scowled. “So what are you presenting? You’re up after me.”

Peter stopped cold. The leaden feeling in his stomach returned. History homework. That was the other thing he had forgotten. What had he been doing last night?

Falling, answered a small, lost voice.

Thanks, Cameron! It’s getting there, I think.

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