The Peridot Shift trilogy, consisting of Flotsam, Salvage, and Cast-Off, comes to a close today, and I’m celebrating by having R.J. Theodore back on the blog to talk about putting this finale together. Since Flotsam, a god has died, souls can be ripped from bodies using a deadly gas, the remaining gods have the concerns of Peridot’s inhabitants elsewhere, and Captain Talis fights and works hard to keep her crew safe.
Rekka chats with us about the process of shifting a trilogy from an indefinite saga, tightly weaving loose ends for the finale, the parts they enjoyed, and what they’re working on now.
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Putting Together a Swashbuckling Space Trilogy
Of the three books, which one would you say was the hardest? Were there any that were easier in drafting or in revision, vice versa, etc.?
Award for hardest goes to Salvage without hesitation. Which is a bit surprising, given that I thought at the time of drafting that it would be second in an unending series, rather than the bridge in the middle of a trilogy. I’ve talked several times about how much time I spent on the floor, trying to wrap up Cast Off and not miss a loose end, but in terms of the struggle, I do think it wound up being book two, Salvage, that cost me the most sleep.
Book one, Flotsam, introduces us to a crew used to flying anywhere they wanted, and that freedom was part of who they were. To Talis and the rest of her small found family, every day stuck in Lippen would have felt like an eternity until they reclaimed their former lifestyle. But of course I don’t want readers to feel that eternity too much considering they were promised an adventure novel. Getting the balance just right between the characters being landlocked and the misery of that, while not making the reader want to close the book or jump ahead past where they got back out in the skies, was not easy.
On top of that, the first time through the publishing process, Salvage got over-long as I added new sections to handle requests from the publisher. And, with the publisher’s own battles distracting them, I got away without trimming the word count as I’d been asked. Truth told, the first edition was a much longer book than it had any business being.
With huge thanks to M. E. MacGriogair, the editor I hired to help me cut and refine, the new edition has been slimmed down by over fifteen thousand words and the story finally got the revision it very much needed.
That of course is not to discount how much time I spent on the floor with index cards, planning Cast Off, to get all the details not just in line but enjoyable. That was its own battle, but it was fought in the outlining stage, which I find a much more manageable task than when the battle is fought amid 175 thousand words that all need to be re-read any time there’s a change that could affect the most unexpected small detail on a random page.
How much did you know about Salvage and Cast Off when you finished Flotsam?
As I’d originally planned a self-published open-ended series, I hadn’t tried to plan the ending. I just knew that for each entry, we would need to either do something with a ring or something with one of the Five Alchemist deities of the planet. And maybe in between there’d be a book where nothing happened as expected, just to keep readers from feeling like it was too formulaic. I didn’t have much more than a general idea of where each of the next six (or more!) books were going and I had just tried to keep notes as reference going forward. I had no idea my publishing journey was going to take such unexpected turns and I had only the original series plan in mind as I sent Flotsam off to its first readers, including the publisher that eventually bought it as a trilogy.
For the trilogy, did you have a sense of the overall arc of the story or is it something you discovered as you went on?
Once I knew it was going to be a trilogy, I knew I was in trouble! I remember the conversation with the publisher at Parvus Press, where I protested a trilogy and he offered that, should the book sell well, I could do future tales with time jumps, such as with the Dragonriders of Pern or the stories that followed Sanderson’s Mistborn saga. That meant every plot item I’d set up in Flotsam had to get wrapped up in three books, even though I’d intentionally built a world with enough plot items to last for a saga!
What I still marvel at is that somehow this adjustment to my plans didn’t urge me to revisit Flotsam or Salvage in the Parvus era. In fact, I made no major changes to the overall plot even though both books had been drafted before the trilogy call was made.
I can’t say that I recommend this oversight to anyone facing the same major change to their book series!
I’m not sure how I completely overlooked this opportunity, but there we were, publishing the books even as I had very little idea of how to wrap it all up!
I have to credit my eventual conquering of the storyline to Jennifer Mace’s “Murderboard” method, without which I have no idea how I would have gotten it done. Hours were spent (just ask my lower back) sitting on the floor with an ocean of index cards all around me, cut into tiny pieces so they’d fit on the generously sized cork board that still wasn’t large enough to handle all the elements I had to get in just the right place to finish this thing off.
After reading the final work, Dominique Dickey called it “a masterclass in how to handle an ensemble cast” and Emmie Mears said I brought it “to a satisfying conclusion” so, though the effort tried to bring me to a crumbling mess, it sounds like I did okay! Phew!
How much fun did you have composing sky chanteys and adding in the details of the world? What kind of research did you do?
I am incredibly blessed to have grown up around ocean sailing, and I still live a reasonable drive’s distance from the Mystic Seaport Museum where I can transport myself back in time onto actual whaling ships and to the ports that grew around that industry (awful as it was).
I knew some of these chanteys (if not their meanings) as closely as I knew my bedtime lullabies.
On the other hand, I’ve always been distracted by and grumpy about lyrics printed in a book, “interrupting the story,” so I really wrestled with whether to just describe the act of singing or to actually put the words in there. If you’ve ever seen the Bruce Willis movie Hudson Hawk, the song sung during that opening heist scene inspired a bit of what goes on in Salvage, and you can’t deny the song makes the scene. So I gave in. Fine. Lyrics in my narrative.
I wrote the sky chanteys of Peridot largely based on the tunes of songs I knew from the nautical upbringing I had, and when I revised Flotsam, I made sure to add some of that in there for consistency and world building. So to your question, there was active research into some nautical terms that I wanted to get right (and some I had to adapt because Peridot’s ships don’t sail on water), and then a lot was brought in that had just been part of my life and knowledge already.
The best part was that the aeronautical aspects provided those sensory descriptions that young writers are constantly being advised to include. Wind and rope, wood and brass, canvas and starlight—they all make for an amazing backdrop even before you add the vocal play of sky chanteys.
As for the details of Peridot itself (a world that exploded generations before the story even begins), I probably made the set up harder on myself than I needed to! Really breaking all the rules of how a planet works required that I explain a lot of “science” from the bottom up. Balancing too much world building against not enough, trying not to stop the flow of action whenever something invented made an appearance, and being sure that I wasn’t confusing people in my effort, was an enormous job. I don’t recommend it to young writers as a first attempt at a fantasy world, but I certainly learned a lot.
Sharing Peridot with the World
In terms of the works you’ve written, which spot in the queue does the Peridot Shift take?
The Peridot Shift is the story on which I cut my authorial teeth. You know how they say to write a million words before you try to publish any of them? I did that with the early versions of this story, that’s for sure. I worked on it for over a decade before I hired an editor to help me figure out my next steps, at which point I set aside the near dozen drafts of this tale (each a weird adaptation of the previous one, really banking up that word count) and wrote a fresh version from a blank page. This is what eventually became the Flotsam as it appears on the shelf today. Around the series, I’ve also penned another SF/H series called the Phantom Traveler, and a dozen or so short stories (some related to Peridot, others completely separate). The releases of all of these have threaded in and around both release editions of the Peridot series.
What has your experience been like with Robot Dinosaur Press?
It’s been exactly what I needed after licking the wounds of Parvus’s closure when the pandemic hit hard. Robot Dinosaur Press is a co-op, and it offers all the freedom of self-publishing with all the support of a publishing house. Maybe even more, considering how publishing houses seem to be tiny teams working the many jobs as if they’re a big crew.
At RDP, we’ve got folks of many talents who can assist the individual authors with advice or actual work as they go through the process of publishing their own books. As Stallone put it in Rocky, “We fill each other’s gaps.” At the same time, no one is expected to take on an effort they can’t handle. Everyone Is encouraged to be open and honest with themself and with each other about what they can manage in order to make sure no one’s got too much on their plate at any point. Things get handed back and forth if something becomes too much for someone based on their health or their workload so the work can get done and released even if someone has to step away for a while. It’s everything you’d hope for from publishing, but seems impossible in more traditionally capitalism-born setups, and it’s been absolutely amazing to watch and to experience.
If there’s something you know now about this writing thing that you could tell Past!Rekka, what would you tell them?
Oh gosh. I really think Past!Rekka could maybe make an earlier start to the process I’m only just beginning lately, learning to stop and rest sometimes, maybe, give it a shot? Trying to accept the idea that if you stop and do nothing and happen to fall asleep, that’s not a bad thing and doesn’t make you a bad creator. At the beginning of my publishing journey I definitely put too much value on always going, and I’m having to completely relearn that now, as life has thrown me some punches that I’d have been better prepared for if I knew how to care for myself as much as I cared about my accomplishments.
What are you working on now?
So I’ve got a book that’s just about ready to go out the door, and it’s a stand-alone so it should be an interesting one-and-done publishing experience. Something, aside from short fiction, I’ve never experienced! However, one of the things I really consider important is to complete the projects I’ve started. I don’t perceive that readers have a lot of sympathy for authors who don’t get their series finished on schedule. So before my stand-alone, I am finishing up my other series, the Phantom Traveler. Finishing up the half-written final book was to be my NaNoWriMo project this year.
Unfortunately even half a novel was too much on top of the work I needed to do to get Cast Off on shelves, so my NaNo word counts have all come from promo essays and blog posts. Still, I’m not far from done! Ehli’s books are nice and cozy to write, too, and this entry will be about 50k words, so I look forward to getting to that and buttoning up another series.
It’s going to be very strange to have a wide open field of possibility after that, but I have plenty of ideas already mewling for attention!
What are you looking forward to reading (forthcoming or available already)?
I’m deeply in love with C.L. Clark’s Magic of the Lost series and am desperate to read book two, hitting shelves in early 2023. It’s funny, a lot of my writing friends and cohorts are more fantasy leaning and in reading their works to support them, I’m a little behind in my own genre. I’ve recently figured out a way to increase my reading time, so I’m making a point to focus in the SF end of the SF/F/H rainbow, and am diving back into the stars with Aliette de Bodard’s Xuya Universe. The Red Scholar’s Wake just released and is described as “Black Sails in space, but with more romance and more Vietnamese culture” so that of course is welcome to promptly shove itself right in my remaining eye hole.
Oh, and of course I’m enjoying this recent wave of cozy, like Ehli’s stories, and Legends & Lattes gets a double read, partially for curiosity of what changed in its rebirth from self-pub to Tor, and partially because I first read it in summer and it’s totally a great book to read under the holiday lights, tucked into a blanket to hide from the New England winter chill.
R J Theodore (they/she) is an author, graphic designer, and all-around collector of creative endeavors. They enjoy writing about magic-infused technologies, first contact events, and bioluminescing landscapes.
Theodore’s love of fantastic storytelling developed through grabbing for anything-and-everything “unicorn” as a child, but they were subverted by tales of distant solar systems when their brother introduced them to Star Trek: The Next Generation at age seven. A few years later, Sailor Moon taught them stories can have both.
Their short fiction can be found in Metastellar, Lightspeed, and Fireside Magazines, as well as the anthologies Glitter + Ashes, Unfettered Hexes, and Bridge to Elsewhere. They live in New England, haunted by their childhood cat. Find more information at rjtheodore.com.
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