“The Beasts of Electra Drive” discussed in IAF17 video “How Authors Work with Editors”
The Beasts of Electra Drive is the subject of a filmed conversation released as part of IAF17 in London Book Fair week, entitled “How Authors Work with Editors”. It was a fizzy and detailed chat with my upcoming novel’s developmental editor Dan Holloway of Rogue Interrobang, recorded in Oxford University’s Faculty of Theology (God was filming there too, in the room upstairs—I’m not sure what, but it sounded pretty ominous). We were focused on the developmental edit of my upcoming novel, into which Dan has provided much high-quality input. Our discussion can also be seen in the following video-player, and there’s a text transcription of it here below.
From Hollywood Hills mansions and Century City towers, to South Central motels and the oceanside refinery, The Beasts of Electra Drive spans a mythic L.A., following seven spectacular characters (or Beasts) from games designer Jaymi’s created world. The intensity of those Beasts’ creation cycles leads to their secret release into real life in human form, and their combative protection of him from destructive rivals at mainstream company Bang Dead Games. A prequel to my existing five tales, The Beasts of Electra Drive is a fast-paced and surreal explosion of glamour and beauty, horror and enchantment, celebrating the mechanisms and magic of creativity itself.
Rohan Quine: So, Dan, lovely to be with you here.
Dan Holloway: Lovely, and we’re in the Theology Faculty in Oxford University.
Rohan: I can feel the presence of God. [Looks upwards.]
Dan: Indeed. [Indicates Rohan.]
Rohan: Er, right, I’ll try and live up to that! We’re here to talk—very kindly, thank you for joining me—we’re going to talk about The Beasts of Electra Drive, which is my upcoming novel. And specifically about the structural editing stage of the writing of that. Which you have done a fabulous job of guiding me through. Basically we spent about five months, back and forth (slowly, doing other things), but basically five months.
Dan: So the idea is to get an idea of the iterations we’ve been through in that process, and the way we’ve zoomed in like a finely-tuned sculptor or artist, from the broad washes to the fine brushes.
Rohan: The first meeting we had was in Bruno’s Café in Soho.
Dan: It was.
Rohan: And I think you were the one who first brought up J.F.Sebastian in Blade Runner. How would you describe him?
Dan: He is an obsessive loner, creator, who occupies this huge world that he feels completely out of place in and is trying to create his way into an occupancy of, if that makes sense. It’s an old archetype, isn’t it, it goes back to Beauty and the Beast and all these things, of this lone person alone in a castle, not quite knowing what to do with it. Surrounded by space, surrounded by potential, and trying to find a way, through their own endeavour, to occupy that space fully. And for Jaymi it’s obviously this huge house he has on Electra Drive—but also metaphorically he is in this massive world where anything can be created and he is trying to find a way to fill that.
Rohan: Yes. Jaymi of course is my protagonist, [a games designer,] and this is set in the Hollywood Hills and elsewhere in L.A. as well. But Jaymi’s house—in fact he has three houses, grand mansions in the Hollywood Hills. There is a great sense of him being very much alone, despite the fact that he creates … I call them Beasts, they look like people but they are called Beasts, hence the title The Beasts of Electra Drive. So your steering me towards J.F.Sebastian was extremely helpful. I do recall him from Blade Runner. He looks ancient, more ancient than he really is, doesn’t he, because he’s got some strange sci-fi condition that makes him look that way. But the obsessive aloneness—and specifically, doing that in order to have what we referred to as the richest possible communication he could have with the world, is to put these Beasts out there, and to have them then interact with the real world, as it were for him. That is the richest possible communication he could have with the world.
Dan: There’s also this fabulous Dorian Gray type archetype that’s going on there, with J.F. Sebastian who has this condition, as you say—and Jaymi who is part of Hollywood, who is part of this place where you cannot imagine anyone going around who has a wrinkle, let alone an aging condition. And in a way, obviously his Beasts are very beautiful. They are this perfect thing, and yet you have him as this J.F. Sebastian figure in the background, who illustrates the shrivelledness, the dryness, the—
Rohan: Possibly. Also, being at arm’s length, however, in a general sense—because I will just say that there is the sense (at least I’ve endeavoured to make the sense) that even though he spends a lot of time alone, nonetheless when he does venture out into the world, there is a kind of power that he has, as well. And it’s more that he prefers to exercise this power through his Beasts and be alone himself. But when he steps out, he’s also somewhat manipulative. Not in a malign sense, but just because he has a view of how things should be in the world. Which is more to do with intensity and beauty (which can be an ugly beauty, by the way, it doesn’t have to be a pretty beauty).
Dan: Yes, and this is one of the early discussions we had, because one of the things that I wanted to get clear, before we started looking at the details, was exactly what ideas you had of who Jaymi was. And I think I kept on pushing you on exactly that kind of issue of consistency of character. Was he always manipulative? What does it mean to have a hero who’s manipulative? To what extent was he a puppet-master and to what extent was he a part of this world that he is manipulating?
Rohan: Yes. And we may be nipping ahead here in mentioning Francis Bacon, but I am inclined to mention him now. Because it was not until about three or four weeks ago that we thought of Francis Bacon (I mean the painter, not the writer) as being, as it were, the third relevant figure whose echoes can be found in, and can act as a steer for, Jaymi (we’ll mention the other one in a moment)—but after J.F. Sebastian, Francis Bacon is another one. In two senses: firstly, as you were clarifying for me, when Bacon was alone for uncounted hours in that little crucible of a studio upstairs at 7 Reece Mews, over the course of 31 years he occupied that space he obviously spent massive amounts of time alone in that crucible, with him and the canvas, and him and his thoughts before the canvas and so forth, creating these amazing figures, these bloodthirsty, beautiful, ugly but just terrifyingly alive figures which he would then send out into the world. And yet, then when he stepped out from his studio to go into society, he had this legendary, grand, dangerous charm with the people around him—legendarily so. So he was almost like a puppet-master there as well.
Dan: Yes, it was a similar parade of figures, almost like the parade in Macbeth, where you have Banquo and you have all the figures of the Kings of Scotland parading before him. And Bacon having this constant parade of beauty and violence and…
Dan: Sex, and seaminess.
Rohan: And booze.
Dan: Yes! And that’s exactly what’s there with Jaymi as well, isn’t it. Wanting to create this parade of things that are basically all about him and the way that he views the world, and that view that is so certain.
Rohan: Yes, it’s driven by something that’s very founded and rooted and certain. At this point it may be helpful to look through the—I think it’s half a dozen or it may be seven—ever so briefly, these are the main Beasts that he creates. And by the way, these then populate existing other publications of mine. But this here is a prequel to all those other publications.
Dan: We’ll go into the relationship with those others. [In fact, Dan and I ended up forgetting to do so. But what we’d probably have said about it is that: (1) those other five publications are all equal spokes emanating from the same narrative hub, i.e. from this prequel novel The Beasts of Electra Drive; and (2) those five publications’ titles are the same as the titles of the games that Jaymi creates throughout this prequel novel, which therefore implies a metafictional identity between my own real-world novel-publications and my (fictional) protagonist’s game-publications.]
Rohan: Yes; and this novel is the origin of those. And one [Beast] really personifies Jaymi’s propensity towards vengeance on all that he feels deserves vengeance around him. Another personifies his urge for ease and freedom, of a kind or to a level that the world doesn’t allow. Another, ditto the kind of warmth and openness that we all wish we could flourish more easily in this hard-edged world than perhaps we always can. Another, the sheer transcendence (this is very J.F.Sebastian-flavoured), the Beast that Jaymi calls the Platinum Raven, in particular she personifies a kind of transcendence of all the ugly smallness that’s to be found quite easily in the world. And a couple of others too: Kim personifying deep thought; and Scorpio personifying a kind of anti-cosy, fierce beauty.
Dan: Yes, this is probably the point at which to go into the issues that come up from having characters who are representations; and one of the concerns that I had, and I’m sure readers and critics would always have with a story in which there so many characters who are personifications, embodiments, incorporations of ideas, is how you go about making those ideas into believable characters. Because for the idea to be believable, the character has to be believable, and the character has to come first. And this is an area where there were most iterations that we went through, to make sure that each had their own distinctive and unique voice. So I’m intrigued to find out about how you started writing those characters?
Rohan: Similar to how I started writing these characters as they appear in the other publications, because in fact they have the identical same names and they are the same creatures in those subsequent publications that spring from this (although I wrote those beforehand). In other words, both when creating them there and when creating their origins here, I began with a myriad of shards of all kinds of electrified material that I gathered, over years, in fact—some created fresh right now, and others from years ago but evergreen, and all incorporated into a construct. And so each character began (with the first thing I wrote, which was The Imagination Thief) as a heap of shards. And I coalesced each of these heaps of shards into a character. And then it’s relevant to say, although it’s concerning The Imagination Thief, that I made Jaymi there in that novel into a kind of person who could see into the imaginations of other people, for one very specific logistical reason, which is that I thought to myself, my goodness, how the hell can I have one protagonist see so deeply into the primal depths and the red-hot dungeons (and the cool heights, but all aspects) of the interiors of these other people? Answer: he’d better be psychic. Answer, now back in this one, The Beasts of Electra Drive: he’d better be a game designer that’s creating these [Beasts], and they are … I don’t use the word “replicants”, that’s copyrighted by Blade Runner, that’s trade-marked by Blade Runner, but in effect I suppose they’re sort of replicants. So that’s how it began, coming back to your question: it began with a heap of shards, and coalescing each of those heaps, and I categorised each shard into a particular heap according to the flavour of that shard.
Dan: This is something, from an editorial point of view, that was one of the most interesting discussions we had, because it was a question I kept asking you, and you did the authorly thing many times of being very elusive, which is why I kept pushing you because I kept feeling I wasn’t getting an answer. And that question was: if you hadn’t had the existing material, how many Beasts would you have had? Would you have had these same Beasts? Because my concern was always that, yes, you have this other [raw] material and you have these other [published] stories that this taps into, but this has to be right for this book, otherwise it’s not going to work. We have to need to have exactly this many Beasts because they’re right for this story, and not because … and that’s where we got in, I think, to the idea of them being embodiments of different facets of Jaymi’s character.
Rohan: Yes, this was absolute gold-dust that you came up with—that particular point in general. There are many details and ramifications of it, but in essence it is what you just said. Unifying what would otherwise be purely a picaresque experience whereby it’s a bunch of beads on a string and each bead doesn’t really need to commune with the other beads: no, this is now a 3D construct where it’s not just a line of beads. And this was achieved partly with your pointing me towards the idea that it is indeed my protagonist’s journey that needs to lead rather than follow, as it were, in the unfolding of everything.
Dan: Yeah, now that’s something I want to come back to, very quickly, because before we started working together on the editorial process, and whilst you were still writing, I know you had this idea that one of the things you wanted to do with this was try and follow a traditional arc. And you had specifically chosen to follow the “flat character arc”. And in a way, one of the things we uncovered was that this wasn’t going to work.
Rohan: Yes and no! First, just to define the flat character arc: as you know, K.M. Weiland has spoken of a “positive character arc” and a “negative character arc”, which a lot of other people have talked about as well—but she has also added the flat character arc. [In fact she is among the presenters on offer at IAF17, who are listed here; her session is here.] Which doesn’t mean the reading experience is flat, of course. It simply means that the journey of change isn’t really, at its heart, undergone by the protagonist: it’s undergone by everyone around the protagonist. So, I know it’s crime fiction but Sherlock Holmes is a fine example: he never changes, but boy, does he make changes in everybody that’s around him, you know. So, flat character arc, yes: I deliberately was reaching for some traditional structure, because I wanted to take things to the next level after The Imagination Thief, which was more of a picaresque structure, so it [The Imagination Thief] was more of a colonnade where you do have a First Gateway of No Return and you do have a Second Gateway of No Return, [but] you don’t really have steeples in the middle. You have two strong gateways with a colonnade.
Dan: Yes, it’s like a suspension bridge, basically, where you’ve got your two pillars and [gestures in between them].
Rohan: Yes. It does balance. But I wanted to do something new, so I wanted to have finials and steeples in the middle. So I wanted to therefore find a traditional structure to achieve that, and this flat character arc was one of those, because it absolutely does have as many finials and steeples as a positive or a negative character arc does. And I therefore (just reaching forward to remind myself), I therefore did structure it around a Midpoint, and two Doorways of No Return, and in between those, two Pinch Points. So: First Doorway of No Return; First Pinch Point; Midpoint; Second Pinch Point; Second Doorway of No Return; then of course Climax; and Resolution. I structured it that way, traditionally, knowing that there was no danger that I was going to fall into too traditional (or very traditional) a mode of doing things—whatever I did was going to end up being strange!
Dan: Yes. So I’ll take up on what I felt didn’t work about this, and you mentioned the word picaresque, and that’s exactly how it was in the first sense. You literally had: the first Beast comes along and does something, the second Beast comes along and does something, and it’s like this journey that a knight would go through, where you’d have “ooh, here’s a small goblin … ooh, there’s a slightly larger goblin … ooh, here’s a troll … and further on to the dragon”.
Rohan: Or The Canterbury Tales or something.
Dan: Yes. And so you’ve got this—I’m sure I used the traditional phrase in the margin several times, of “one damn thing after another”. So you’ve literally got these unconnected episodes, and the only way of progression is that you’ve got a different character [a new Beast] at the heart of it. So there wasn’t really a sense of an arc, and I couldn’t see what they were doing. But bringing these characters together as aspects of your protagonist was a way of actually turning this into … this is going to sound very Jungian, but this is a psychic integration of Jaymi’s character. So that by the time all of the Beasts—they’re still chronologically, they come after one another, but by the time you’ve got them all, what that actually represents is the fact that these splintered aspects of his personality are now come together.
Rohan: Yes. That was wonderfully helpful, too. It ties into his mission or missions in all this, which creates stakes or higher stakes, doesn’t it. And we clarified our view of two missions. One more personal; and one more kind of, grander, more worldly, more to do with a more Olympian view of life and how it should be, rather than how it is, which is just as important. So yes, the personal stakes that we came up with kind of came back to this J.F. Sebastian thing of “How the hell is he going to live in this world, when this world is designed with such cussedness?”—which I know we all find, you know, but it’s for each of us to make our way through that cussedness with our own different sets of resources. So that was, you know, a fairly to-be-expected personal gathering-together of all the strands that these Beasts were. But then the grander mission that we clarified was basically, to give it your wonderful phrase, the “battle for the soul of mankind”. I’m not sure I used that phrase in the text, but—
Dan: I would hope you didn’t use that phrase in the text.
Rohan: Yes—cut it straight out! But let’s face it, that’s what we’re talking about. In other words, we’re talking about how to make the world—or how to add one’s tiny, not-very-empowered note to that grand symphony that we all see and hear around us, which does as enriching a thing as we can do with the resources at our disposal.
Dan: It’s basically about the difference between life and existence, isn’t it? And how culture can enhance us and enrich us and make us more than just exist.
Rohan: Yes. And it occurs to me—I’m sure we had this as a subtext of many chats—that the more personal you get, and the more specific and the more kind of, the less attention you actually pay to the grand mission, in fact the more you are likely to be relevant to the grand mission. Because you’re really diving down into a personal—
Dan: And this is an area that I think we worked on quite a lot, because there was an element, in the original text, of your stepping back and making grand, making statements, rather than seeing how those statements played out.
Rohan: Mm. Thing is, each Beast within itself has always dived down into the bowels and the depths, absolutely, my goodness me—and he, Jaymi, was this Olympian figure, the games designer, sitting up in his mansion of empowerment in the Hollywood Hills. It was a question of communicating between those two levels, wasn’t it? And the clarification of stakes and mission were part of throwing that rope down from the grand Olympian mansion, and hauling—making connection with what pre-existed, which was all that stewing, Beastly, emotional stuff (because you know this comes out of one’s guts, of course it does). The other kind of lifeline that was thrown down from the grand cool mansion, down to the guts level, was his voice, wasn’t it? You clarified his voice; we could move on to that, in general.
Dan: Yes. I was just going to draw the Greek thing out a little bit further, and say that what we did was we took it from an Aeschylan to a Euripidean view of the relation between humanity and the gods. So we went from this ancient view of the gods up there and humanity down there and a disconnect between the two—to very much the two being embroiled together and having to cope with interacting with each other, and the gods being much more human.
Rohan: Yeah. And more fallible? The Greek gods were always screwing around and getting drunk and knocking over cake-stands, by the time they came, you know, after a while, weren’t they? They weren’t the infallible Christian God. We’re getting into theology here, but they were fallible, they were more fallible than—
Dan: They became more fallible, and I think that’s what I’m getting at, because they start off as quite distant and isolated and they become more fallible over the course of the development of traditional Greek tragedy—and as represented in Aristophanes’s The Frogs, which is about the difference between Aeschylan tragedy and Euripidean tragedy, and it’s about the role of the gods, and are the gods distant or are they really concerned with human affairs?
Rohan: How much later was Euripides than Aeschylus?
Dan: About 50, 60 years.
Rohan: Not much.
Dan: Not much, it’s a couple of generations, in which everything like that changes. And that’s what we got within a few iterations of the manuscript with a feel of what you were after.
Rohan: Yes. Let’s say more about Alex, therefore, because I think Alex comes in at this point, doesn’t he? Who is Alex, again?
Dan: Alex is Alex from Anthony Burgess’s A Clockwork Orange. And I think I put it that it’s—the bits where I felt in the original that Jaymi was the strongest were a cross between Alex from A Clockwork Orange and Dick Van Dyke. Which sounds like a very strange thing to say! There’s this delicious, hyper-violent, hyper-surreal, hyper-slang, Cockney-hip, edgy … a unique voice that is, it’s disturbing, it flicks from one thing to another unpredictably, there are lots of sentences that just suddenly have a really peculiar word in the middle of them, and he has a very unique use of adjectives. Which I think to some extent you hadn’t noticed. Because at one stage you said, “Can you make me a list of some of these sentences?”
Dan: So next time I went at it and literally highlighted in yellow, “This is what I mean, this is a bit of Alex!” And you were, “Ah!”
Rohan: You were, if anything, more thinking of Malcolm McDowell’s portrayal of Alex, than of Burgess’s original, perhaps.
Dan: Yes, the knowing, winky sort of, to-camera…
Rohan: And when you say Cockneyfied, I suppose this is—
Dan: Like Dick Van Dyke—I was thinking of Dick Van Dyke from Mary Poppins. Discordant: the fact that the Cockney-ness really doesn’t work in Dick Van Dyke’s accent, and yet when you add this layer of ultra-violence and sinisterness [from A Clockwork Orange] and all-encompassing meta-narrative [in The Beasts of Electra Drive] on top of, it makes it “not work” in a really interesting way. And it’s the discordance in Jaymi’s voice that’s so fascinating.
Rohan: Yes. And of course there was discordance in the Malcolm McDowell original by itself too, wasn’t there—I mean the one [eye’s] eyelashes are highlighted and the other’s are not, kind of thing, which is on one level kind of “wrong for everyday life”, but is very right for what it was meant to be doing! So, yes, we ended up with Jaymi’s voice having been clarified via J.F. Sebastian, Alex from A Clockwork Orange, and Francis Bacon. So as to make things a little more tidy and full of sense, I basically donated the J.F. Sebastian aspect of that to one particular Beast, the Platinum Raven. I gave the task of, as it were, being J.F. Sebastian, to her. She personifies transcendence, or more specifically the urge in Jaymi my protagonist for transcendence, over everything in this world that we all need to transcend. And she also was a very cool-toned Beast—the coolest-toned Beast.
Dan: And she was the Beast I had the most difficulty relating to and had the most problems with.
Rohan: Yes, and that was partly why I decided, “Ah, OK, I will simply donate J.F. Sebastian, in some of his aspects, to her.” Because he’s a ready-made thing that we want to do, our version of him—let’s just give him to her. So that was really useful to learn—that she was needing a little bit more voltage, shall we say. And he was a bit of spare voltage waiting [for us] to find a home for; so they plugged into each other. Not that you’d know, but from behind the scenes he was my source of voltage for her. As was Lana Del Rey, to some extent, I may as well mention! Specifically, “Summertime Sadness”: the wires above were sizzling like a snare; doing about 100, 99 miles an hour etc., I introduced a few images of zooming up the rocky headlands of the Pacific Coast Highway that I think of in particular when I hear “Summertime Sadness”.
Dan: I find her particularly interesting as an artist, and she’s an artist I listen to a lot. And I know she’s a very problematic artist, very controversial because of her views on feminism, and a lot of costumery, she’s become very embroiled in the cultural appropriation arguments. So she’s a very problematic artist, but she has this fascinating mix of harmony and melancholy and cruelty in her. It’s not even that you can separate them out, and that’s what’s so interesting about her—it’s a homogenous package, but it has all these different levels, it splits in all these interesting ways. And so it’s a very good thing to model your story on, because it’s what takes something that on the surface when you look at the harmonies of it, it seems quite bland, but it actually has an element that’s not bland at all!
Rohan: Yes. Specifically, the way in which I most obviously introduced her into the Platinum Raven was that I had Jaymi set up a death wish and then, as a games designer—as a programmer, basically, of her—a coder of her—coded into her, into his Beast the Platinum Raven, this death wish to be boozed-up and happy and ready to die in a car-crash, going up the rocky headlands of the Pacific Coast Highway … and yet [as a programmer] cut that off, never allow it to happen to her. Have it always be a potential difference within her, a voltage inside her, and her never actually to die like that.
Dan: Which illustrates the problematic aspects of Jaymi as a character, and the controlling aspects of his character. Because this is a clearly very cruel and manipulative thing to do. And it raises wider questions about culture, because obviously whilst the aims that he, he sets out with these wonderful aims—these aims turn into totalitarianism.
Rohan: Haha! To some extent, yes.
Dan: And this is a conversation we had, about what extent—this is his great thing he’s doing—to what extent he is just a totalitarian character who is controlling and manipulating and abusing. I think I actually used the word “abuse” in some of our earlier conversations.
Rohan: Yes. This touches upon whether or not—the question that we also talked about, of whether or not the Beasts are actually alive and actually have their own volition and feelings. Because yes, it’s certainly cruel for him to do that to her, if indeed she does actually have feeling, agency, volition, suffering, pain etc. But Jaymi’s a games designer, he’s writing code, these are ones and zeroes (I use the phrase “ones and zeroes” a lot, to ram home that this is ones and zeroes he’s trucking with, at least on the surface). And I spell out that when he’s had his Beasts run around in L.A. and do their stuff (and take on Jaymi’s enemies, basically)—then those Beasts are once again sealed up in the games before the games are released, done and dusted, in their packaging, will be played by gamers in the future, and they’ll just be ones and zeroes at that point. So we come to the philosophical question, which again is there in Blade Runner obviously: are these [Beasts] real feelers? Do they feel?
Dan: And as an editor, and this is the moment where I turn to camera and say this is the key thing for an author and an editor working together, is: when I read the book as a critic, I’ll have all sorts of things to say about that, and I’ll take you to task on a lot of those things. But as an editor it’s absolutely not my job to take you to task; my job is to understand that you understand that you are raising these complexities. Because the worst thing you can do as an author is to raise all these questions without actually being in control of them in your own head. So it’s my job as an editor to make sure that you understand the ramifications of what you’re saying. Whatever you do with that, that’s fine, that’s up to you.
Rohan: And you raised one or two things that I realised that there simply wasn’t going to be time for me to tangle with them. For example, the really interesting idea about what fun it would be, or rather how rich it would be, potentially, to have Jaymi go into a game… But no, sorry that’s a whole—that would make the novel too long!
Dan: It’s a long book as it stands, yes!
Rohan: So, I should say that the stage we’re at is a very precise tidy stage: I’ve exactly finished what we decided to call the structural edit; and I’m exactly at the beginning before plunging into what we decided to call the copy-edit. And I say “what we decided to call”, because in this case the boundary between the structural edit (also known as the developmental edit, same thing) and the copy-edit was perhaps slightly less of a clear boundary than it may be for some novels, because…
Dan: …Because of the way, once you had established that these Beasts were aspects of Jaymi, we then had the issue of how do you differentiate the passages where we have Jaymi speaking and the passages where we have the Beasts speaking? And a lot of that comes down to sentence structure. And so we did have this back-and-forth as, well, is sentence structure part of the structural edit, or is part of the copy-edit? And I think in the end we decided that the structural editing part of it was making sure that we both had an understanding of what the different voices were; and then the copy-edit part of it was exactly how you embedded that in the passages in question.
Rohan: Yes. And to get really precise now about the first, most structurally-flavoured aspect of the copy-editing that I’m going to dive into as the first part of the copy-edit, it is that as Dan has just said… There are a few places in the novel where Jaymi can’t even be present, and I’ve made absolutely sure that there is no trace of his slangy Alex/Bacon/Sebastian voice in those, it’s just blank normal language; that was very straightforward indeed. Then there are places in the novel where it’s very much him but he’s alone, he’s running around, he’s doing stuff by himself, he’s not making Beasts; that’s also fairly straightforward because we now have this, that’s done essentially, we now have this voice that we’ve just described. We then (this is what we’re getting to), we then have the Creation Cycle mini-chapters. I should say that when each of the seven Beasts is created, Jaymi goes through a creation process to make that happen: he develops, over the course of the novel, in his sophistication as a creator of Beasts; he also at the same time develops in his sophistication as an orchestrator of already-incarnated Beasts. So those are two journeys of sophistication that he takes—creating the Beasts, and then making them run around and do stuff. So, what we’re here talking about in the precision of what I’m about to jump into in the copy-edit relates to during the Creation Cycles—because these are the most buried-deep-inside-the-Beasts. He’s making them, you are inside the Beasts’ existences. And what we were originally losing track of was Jaymi’s [own] journey while we were in those depths. So in this copy-edit I’ll be infusing the Jaymi voice (let’s call it for the sake of simplicity the Alex/Bacon voice) into all those deep-in-the-Beasts Creation Cycle mini-chapters. But what we’ve arrived at in recent weeks, the finessing of this if you like—thank you!—is that rather than my infusing the entire Jaymi voice (in all its layers) into each Beast, I need to infuse them in a different way. And the different ways in which I need to infuse them, in each case, is to take a subset of Jaymi’s voice, infuse that subset of his voice into each Beast as applicable (different subset in each case), and then amplify that subset. So, to take one example only, Evelyn: simplistically described, she personifies his desire for ease and freedom in this life, where this life does not permit ease and freedom as much as it should. So I’ll take that aspect of the Alex/Sebastian/Bacon combo which is the Jaymi voice, I will identify the aspect of that voice that is his yearning for this ease and freedom, I will inject only that element into her, and I will then amplify that. And this will then be achieved just on a copy-editing level, by introducing specific kinds of vocabulary and specific urges or desires that will come out in her Creation Cycle mini-chapters.
Dan: This is where the lines blur [between structural editing and copy-editing] because, as you know, I have worries about that as a procedural way to go, to the extent that … to what extent is it simply a question of saying I am going to infuse something, I’m going to change a few—and this is the control-freak in me wants to make sure, to know that I can see the mechanics of how that is going to happen. And one of the dangers of handing over to the next stage of the edit is making sure that that’s as fully integrated into the book as it can be, so that I can’t see the joins. This is always one—when you start to do something technical with the writing, the first time you do it, you see the joins. And it’s only at the, it’s only once you’ve been through a few iterations that those joins get smoothed out.
Rohan: It’s rewriting, isn’t it, it’s called rewriting, refining, finessing—yeah, it can happen! Part of the reason why we made this division between the structural edit category of these tasks and the copy-edit category of these tasks was that we knew we were going to be filming this. And also because we had to draw that line somewhere, for professional reasons! However, obviously, you’ve been so helpful and valuable on the structural side, that I will absolutely (to the extent you want to look at it) show you the copy-editing aspects of it all, and we can talk about that, going forward, as well.
Dan: It’s certainly something that I do find with—with a lot of books there is an element that hasn’t been gone through, there is a final—I worry that sometimes I can still see the mechanics. And that’s something that you shouldn’t be able to see. You absolutely will see the mechanics in the early drafts, because it’s the mechanics that make things work. But like those clay models where you reconstruct someone’s face from the bone structure underneath, eventually you smooth over the clay enough so that you don’t see what’s underneath. And that’s the stage that I think you need to get to with an edit.
Rohan: Well, one thing that’s characterised the process we’ve gone through so far is that we’ve been extremely thorough and methodical about pursuing every last thing that’s been uncovered or decided, and we’ve sketched out those tasks in the order that’s most likely to make the best job of the whole thing, and we’ve gone through that order. So, coming back out to the general sort of view of how a structural edit can be done most helpfully, I first of all addressed myself to something we haven’t quite mentioned—
Dan: Ah, so this is what I wanted to come back to, because from an editorial point of view, for people listening to this, it’s going to be something that’s very useful, because it comes up with every book to a certain extent—and that’s the world-building aspect of it.
Rohan: Yes, exactly, so you came up with some suggestions that one or two mini-chapters should be rearranged, which were very fine suggestions; I did that, that’s one aspect of this.
Dan: But the real question—and this is because this [novel] has a magic realist element to it, but it’s there in other things as well—is how does this world work? What’s allowed? What’s not allowed? Because in my first reading through it, there were times where I felt that characters were doing things that you had said earlier weren’t allowed. Or they weren’t doing things that were allowed, and so you get the thing, “well, why didn’t they just do that?”
Rohan: And as part of this world-building point, that then starts to shade into the point about building a journey for the protagonist: as I think I half-mentioned earlier, we came up with the fact that part of his journey is as an increasingly sophisticated creator of Beasts, and then orchestrator of already-incarnated Beasts. And this relates to world-building, doesn’t it?
Dan: Yes, this mention of incarnation. What does incarnation mean? And you used the image of the film Ring. Which is great, because you literally there have the girl coming out of the television screen into reality. It’s also there in Aphex Twin’s “Come to Daddy”, which is—right at the end of that seminal video, where the figure comes out of the television screen in order to scream at granny.
Rohan: That’s a treat in store, I must see that, I haven’t seen it yet! Yes, world-building, so… Jaymi is a human being, there’s no ambiguity there. But we should clarify that once he’s gone through a Creation Cycle for each Beast, which in each case is a specific task of: his writing their code; one of his antagonists then hacking their code; then his creating the Beast’s appearance; then one of Jaymi’s antagonists “smudging” that Beast’s appearance, again via digital hacking means (it’s not a sci-fi thing, it’s not a techno-thriller, I don’t stress that aspect of things, but in a magical realist sense, one of his antagonists reliably attacks the appearance of each Beast as they’re created); [then] a soundtrack is assembled by Jaymi for each Beast, as occurs in games; he kind of test-drives each Beast; and finally each Beast is incarnated. Which means, yes, just to clarify things here, they do slither out! They look like a human, but they slither out through his monitor…
Dan: And this is something that wasn’t clear initially, and I don’t think that the actual structure—that the process of what was happening was clear in your mind, necessarily—or it wasn’t clear to me that it was clear in your mind, and that’s the editorial question always, is are you clear what you’re doing? And what has ended up, which I think does work, is the first time it happens Jaymi is taken aback by this, it’s not something deliberate that he sets out to do. And then it wasn’t clear thereafter whether—it sort of went from him being utterly taken aback “What on earth is happening?”, to “Oh, well, this is what I do.” And I thought that just wasn’t realistic as a reaction to it. And so you’ve built in much more of a journey, of him learning what it is he’s doing. He’s got these powers, and they turn out to be much greater powers than he thinks he’s got. And he comes to terms with what these powers can do, through the course of the various Creation Cycles. So that it’s not—and you get this in cheap films, and it’s part of the picaresque thing again, is you go from having something that “Oh my God, what have I just done?” to being very blasé about it. And that element goes. So there’s not this falling off a cliff, in terms of realisation, but it’s much more of a journey that he goes on.
Rohan: Yes. A journey of subtlety and sophistication in building these Beasts. For example, his first Beast that he builds, Amber, whose appearance is that of Rutger Hauer in The Hitcher—which was first set up as an appearance of Amber in one of the other publications [The Platinum Raven] to which this is a prequel. This Beast Amber is, in a sense, the simplest, harshest Beast; to wit, Jaymi has taken a ready-made JPEG of his appearance, out of the culture (Hauer as John Ryder in The Hitcher); he couldn’t be arsed to make a new appearance of his own, he took a ready-made off-the-peg one. And also, Amber is a harsh creature, of vengeance and lip-smacking fun, you know. So we get more sophisticated than that [with] the second Beast, Evelyn; she is a personification of the violin-playing that a young teenage Jaymi (whom we get a glimpse of at the beginning of the novel) used to do, when he was a bit of an outsider of course, a creative strange outsider from the main popular group, tolerated on its edges, you know (much like me, and many of us, I’m sure—many of us artistic freaks!). And so we go through the Beasts and Jaymi gets more and more subtle about making them. But then during the course of each Creation Cycle, I interleave the dense descriptive artistic freaky strange electrified Creation Cycle mini-chapters, with narrative mini-chapters—and those are people running around, it’s the real world, it’s meat-space, stuff is happening, people are having coffee, you know, normal-world stuff, to make sure the novel is as it should be, in terms of variety and pace. And part of this running-around in these narrative mini-chapters is that the already-incarnated Beasts, who have already slithered out through screens in previous Creation Cycles, are now running around doing their thing. And initially Amber is kind of a bit of a prankster as he runs around (too much so, and I’ll reduce that, as you’ve pointed out); but he’s meant to be a bit crude in his running around. And then when the future Beasts run around, they get more sophisticated, until finally there’s half a dozen of them collaborating in a server farm to do a magical-realist-generated but essentially rather sophisticated reworking of pixels and glyphs, and it’s all much more effective and on-the-money—and affecting the [global] world, because this is a server farm from which flows out a nasty game that Jaymi’s antagonists have created, that is taking over the world in a cultural sense. So yes, with your help—thank you!—I did manage to make that world-building bleed into the journey and therefore the mission and therefore the stakes and therefore the electrification of the whole thing.
Dan: Another—it would probably be very useful if we wrapped up by saying (and again, with our two camera-heads on) what it is you feel someone should be looking for most in the editorial process. And I’ll say very briefly what I think it is that an editor can do and look for in a writer. I’m happy to start, if you want to get your thoughts together? One of the things I look for is I really don’t want to work with something I’m not interested in. I would say this is where we come back to a previous session we did called “Preserving the Unicorn” where we talked about how to work with writers who have a very particular, very special or unique voice, or take on the world, in order to sharpen that up and not homogenise them and reduce them to this lowest cultural common denominator. [“Preserving the Unicorn” was the Literary Fiction panel in Triskele LitFest 2016: Dan is referring to our segment in this panel, which can be seen here; and the entire panel with all its authors and editors can be seen on Triskele Books’ website for the LitFest, which is here.] So if there isn’t something there that is interesting and that looks like it can be brought out—if, as it were, the marble has no sculpture in it, then I’m not interested in it. Or I’d find it very hard to get enthusiastic about just polishing it up, because then it would feel like everything I did was just essentially glorified copy-editing. Because there are some things where you think, I don’t know what to do with this, I genuinely—you see, I have to connect with it in a certain way. And I think, from a practical point of view, working with you—because we both work in probably quite atypical ways, but quite similar atypical ways—what’s very helpful is to have a very similar set of cultural references. And that’s probably come across in what we’ve said, a lot. That we do have, we’re both vaguely of the same generation, we both grew up surrounded by film and art, and this formed, when we talk about things that we talk about—Bacon, we both know what we mean—talk about Blade Runner and Rutger Hauer—and these are all central parts of our cultural landscapes.
Rohan: And they’re the pop end of it. I mean, there is an undercurrent, an undergrowth—
Dan: In the philosophy.
Rohan: A foundation of more kind of sober, less pop stuff, and that’s kind of a compost out of which the pop stuff has shot up.
Dan: Yes, which is, I’d say, 1960s avant-garde philosophy and French philosophy in particular, that we haven’t discussed here but we did discuss much in our early conversations.
Rohan: All that helps, yes, absolutely. And all I can say really is that—as someone who’s created something whose absolute core reason-for-being is to be itself, and to explosively and irreducibly be itself to the max—it’s not going to work if somebody comes in (as of course you were never going to come in, but some editors might come in)—
Dan: That’s always the fear, isn’t it? In the author.
Rohan: Yes! …Who would then bring their own agendas for the core of the work, you know. The twigs and the leaves, that’s what we set out to hack around; but if the direction of the trunk of the tree is essentially alien (so I’m making the same point as you but from the opposite viewpoint)—if the direction of the trunk isn’t right, if the direction of the trunk needs to be “straightened out” (thank you very much), so as to fall for example within a specific genre or a specific market or whatever, then that’s not going to lead to much pleasure.
Dan: It’s not going to lead to much pleasure. It’s also not going to lead to a lot of changes being made: it’s going to lead to a lot of frustration on both sides, where you have these parallel conversations that don’t actually get you anywhere.
Rohan: At one point, in one of the comments that we exchanged in the right margin in track-changes of Word, I remembered a Peanuts cartoon from years ago, where you may recall the bossy Lucy (such a bossy-boots). And somebody came up to her and handed her a list of her “faults”. And she looked at it, for one or possibly even two cells of the comic-strip, not saying anything. And then she called after the person, “These are not faults, these are character traits!”… This is central to it, you know. And it’s central to dealing in the real world with anybody who’s unusual: they’re not “wrong”, they don’t need “fixing”; they’re just unusual. So, you know, this [The Beasts of Electra Drive] is unusual. And we need to make that unusualness flower, and be the best version of itself that it can be. So, yes, you obviously do that, in spades. You mentioned, I think, at one point (on your website, I think, www.rogueinterrobang.com), you mentioned that you have a focus on thrillers. And I think you mentioned that that’s because they were not, at the end of the day, something that you would—well, you explain it! You mentioned that, I think, on your website.
Dan: I’m trying to remember what I say in there. What is it?
Rohan: I think I recall you said, somewhere on your website, that there’s an editorial interest in thrillers. And I said, that’s interesting because I know that what you read and write, and respond most to, is really not a genre like thrillers—
Dan: Yes, and it’s wanting—if what you’re dealing with [as an editor] is something too close to what you write, then you have a problem because it’s much easier to bring your own agenda to it. So, as an editor you want to make sure you’re not bringing your own agenda to it. And therefore having something that forms a clear part of your cultural framework, so you understand what’s going on and so that you get the mechanics of it and know what works and what doesn’t work and understand what the author wants, but not something where you are thinking what you could do with that material. That’s something important; this is a book I would never write, and I think that’s absolutely essential if you are a writer and an editor. If you’re working with someone on something that you would write, there’s always a tendency to say “How would I write that!?” And that’s absolutely where you mustn’t go.
Rohan: Yeah… So, it’s been a pleasure. And it’s not over yet—because we have the copy-editing stage! Which I will launch into; and then we’ll see what’s what, after all that. So, thank you so much.
Dan: Thank you very much indeed.
Rohan: Thank you thank you!