As I gear up to publish Beastheads, the next Gryphon Clerks novel, and my short story collection Good Neighbours and Other Stories, I've been reflecting on the books I haven't published.
It's sometimes pointed out that one of the problems with self-publishing is that there's nothing to stop people publishing novels that should never have seen the light of day, "practice" books that are useful for learning, but will only put your potential audience off your writing if anyone reads them. In the biz, these are known as "trunk" novels, because back in the pre-digital day they were kept in trunks.
I have two. The first I wrote in my mid-teens. It's SF in the vein of Harry Harrison (only serious) and Heinlein, two authors I was reading a lot at the time.
Earth has interstellar travel, but the only thing they've been using it for is to exile criminals to a planet of Alpha Centauri. The criminals have taken over this planet and named it Joli Rouge, after the original name of the pirate flag, because I loved that sort of trivia. They have a cruel, but effective society there, and are gearing up to invade Earth.
Earth is populated largely by pinko wussies (I think that bit was Heinlein), but there's a secret organisation that protects them without their knowledge, because someone has to. The hero, Jim Grey (named in honour of Slippery Jim diGriz, though he's a lot closer to James Bond) is sent to Joli Rouge to scout, and discovers the invasion plot. He goes back with a female agent to thwart it, and they're shot down, if I remember rightly. He goes forth in his armoured battle suit and shoots people and blows things up on a wholesale basis, assisted by his female sidekick. Partway through this, they hook up.
With the plot thwarted, their boss decides to blow this pinko popsicle stand and leave Earth to its fate, taking all the agents in a space ark along with as much Earth culture as they can carry, because that's the really valuable part of Earth: its past cultural productions, not its people.
I was, as you can tell, a cynical, arrogant and snobbish teenager, which is the main reason this book is staying trunked (quite apart from the pulpiness). A literary agent friend of my aunt's liked it enough to take on its representation, but never sold it, and that's probably a good thing. I wouldn't want it on my permanent record.
My second trunked novel is a Tolkienesque fantasy, involving members of a number of fantasy races in a quest for seven magical swords (made from unicorn horns) which render their wielders invulnerable and unaging. It developed out of a cyberpunk novel, never finished, in which the fantasy plot was a game the characters played, but I decided that the fantasy made a better story and dropped the cyberpunk frame.
I have several unfinished novels, as well. I don't remember what their working titles were, or even if they had any. The first was my first attempt at fiction, when I was about 12. It involved a youth organisation for teaching survival skills and assisting in search-and-rescue. Several members were sailing a boat from New Zealand to Australia to train the Australians in their techniques, but I never figured out how to write a plot, and abandoned it.
Then there was the cyberpunk frame for the fantasy novel that I already mentioned. The characters were high achievers who had been given brain implants and were figuring out creative things to do with them, such as controlling a second set of (robot) hands.
I re-used one of the characters, a red-headed Welsh jazz musician named Miranda Llewellyn, in my unfinished post-cyberpunk novel Topia. The main character of that one has cerebral palsy, and speaks using a brain implant. He's grown up in a highly unusual faith community extrapolated from the one that I'm a part of, which emphasises creativity and innovative thinking, and he works as a greyware engineer, helping other people to go beyond their natural limitations through brain-implant technology. Miranda hires him to enable her to play the saxophone and sing at the same time, and they become friends and, later, a couple. I may finish that one someday.
The only unfinished novel I have that you can actually read is right here on the C-Side Media site. The Y People (the title is a nod both to the X-Men and the Tomorrow People) is a YA novel about a group of orphaned teenagers with powers who discover one another when a man calling himself Mr Brown comes after them. Mr Brown doesn't seem quite human, and they don't know why he wants them, but they do know they don't want to go with him. I got twelve thousand-word chapters in before losing momentum, between the press of other priorities and not knowing where the story was going. I do know this: the mysterious adversaries are either aliens, interdimensional beings, time travellers, or Fae, and which ones they are will not be clear to the kids for some time.
Again, I may start the book up again sometime, if the mood takes me.
Ideas Not in Active Development
As well as all the books I have planned in the Gryphon Clerks series (which you can read about on my Books page), I have several SF novels that I may eventually get round to. They are, I think, in the same general setting as Topia and/or Gu, and are relatively near-future, near-space or Earth-based. One is a sequel to Topia, State of Lunacy, and involves the moon declaring its independence. Canned Goods Inspector is about the last honest cop in the inspectorate which, under a successor to the UN, is in charge of making sure that massive human rights abuses are not occurring in the cheap orbital habitats being built from asteroids. It's a companion novel to Up the Line, about a kind of interdenominational chaplain working at the base of the Space Elevator as refugees from ethnic wars and climate change emigrate to those same habitats.
As the saying goes, ideas are easy, execution is hard. The thing I'm really pleased about in my writing life is that I've started to execute consistently. By next month, I should have seven titles out (four Gryphon Clerks novels, City of Masks, Gu and the short story collection), I'm about halfway through writing the stories for Makers of Magic, and depending on what else happens in the second half of the year it's likely that I'll finish another novel or two.
That puts all the unfinished stuff in perspective.