What’s the Big Idea?

I’ve whined about struggling with the follow-up to Perigee a few times, which I guess makes this one of those times. The successful indie writers say one should be able to crank out two or three books a year…yeah, riiight. I’m not sure how anyone can manage that with both day job and family. Since I choose to spend time with my kids, unfortunately that means ya’ll lose out on biannual doses of storytelling brilliance. You guys aren’t going to be the ones selecting my nursing home when the time comes, so it’s important for me to keep the boys happy now so I don’t end up in some state-sanctioned Uncle B.O.’s Gulag Acres.

Next week’s big hiking trip has been crowding out what’s left of my mental space for the last month or two. That’s not a bad thing. Two weeks of living outdoors in the Rockies is likely to be even better.

Why? Because I’ve done all I can do with the new book until now. The story’s there, all of the characters are established, major scenes are written…but it’s still not done. If anything, it feels maybe 2/3 complete. I could fill in some yawning gaps and toss it out nice n’ quick-like, but it would just be a sequence of events and you guys would hate me for it. Ever read one of those books that was just a progression of set pieces that led to a conclusion? That’s what I’m trying to avoid, because this book has the potential to be big. The story arc certainly has a lot of kick-ass elements to it…but what ties them together? Why should we care about any of it?

That’s why it’s crucial to figure out what the story’s really about. It’s got to be more than “Event A leads to Crisis B which is resolved by C.” Figuring that out sometimes requires stepping away from the keyboard and clearing your head – you know, that whole forest/trees thingy. By that, I mean what’s the Big Idea driving events and motivating your characters? What concepts are you exploring? Granted this is more of a concern in sci-fi than in technothrillers, but even a straight-up thriller needs to have a theme that pulls it all together. It doesn’t have to be obvious…in fact, it shouldn’t be lest you end up just being preachy.

Or worse: boring.

So to recap the story: Art Hammond’s bunch at Polaris AeroSpace are now flying tourists on free-return orbits around the Moon. As you may have gathered from the posted excerpts, one ship runs into a bit of trouble and is reported missing after disappearing around the lunar far side. Our heroes, of course, leap into action and face more than a few unexpected twists as they set off to find their friends somewhere in lunar orbit.

There are certainly plenty of readers attracted by the setting alone – but more are attracted by a compelling reason for it. Otherwise, it’s just another space-rescue drama. Been there, done that. So what’s it really about? Well, I can’t say too much without giving up the story. Suffice to say that in a world where a few individuals can wreak unprecedented havoc, it is likewise individuals who have the means to stop it. What makes the difference is their will to overcome their fears, doubts, or past failures. And the sides we choose aren’t always as clear-cut as we’d like them to be.

So yes, the missing link has been found, so I can promise you we’re not in for just a fictional re-telling of Apollo 13.

Eventually I’ll even settle on a title.

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