This week has been consumed by editing The Lash, my Last Mayor zombie book 9. There have been some real ups and downs, crises of confidence, which I didn’t get when editing the earlier books in the series. This one took one major unusual step – flipping Amo from the good guy to the bad guy – and addressing that was a challenge.
Here’s what I did with them all:
Naturally there were some interwoven, consistent Cerulean dreams throughout the novel, all in Amo’s POV. It happened in the Yangtze Darkness – some complex stuff about Amo getting in a packaging box on a conveyor belt, which itself was rotting and full of maggots, and get carried blind through the plastic drapes to the end, where he fell off and …
Why was this all here? On one hand, because I love Ceruleana nd don’t want to let him go. One the other hand, because I wanted a further way to show how mad Amo is going.
But it’s not fun. It’s drawn out, overwritten, and has no stakes. So what if he falls off the conveyor belt in a dream? It’s a dream! What does anything Cerulean says mean? He’s dead! Ooh, maggots. Gross.
So, I cut all of it. Now there are a few tiny snippets of Cerulean – hallucinations Amo sees built into the real world. They will doubtless be more powerful now.
There were some 6 chapters of Lara – after New LA blows up, she rolls across the country talking to Crow. We get a lot of Crow background, Native American stuff that’s earnestly written but probably hokey, and we get a lot of Witzgenstein from a distance.
It’s a lot of narrative threads to think about. All the others – Amo, Anna, Lucas are tied directly to what is going on with the bad guy for the book – General Marshall. So I trim it all. Now – at the very end – Marshall mentions Lara. Amo gets confused. It makes sense to have a brief catch-up with Lara then. The threat she’s facing. And those 6 chapters barely need any condensing – there’s one threat through them all that doesn’t change, so put it in one chapter.
Tech backstory & lepers
I had expected to seriously lighten the tech load. Stuff about the hydrogen line is dull. The more explanations I offer, the more confusing it gets. I trim a great deal – the line is going crazy, Amo has black light power, helmets can protect you but are imperfect.
But then I hit the lepers at the end of the book. They play a pivotal, but very dreamy, role in the book. They confuse things enormously. Essentially, they are the awful byproduct of the efforts to make helmets that resist the hydrogen line.
They look like mummies, they are chaotic, and when they get near you you start to go mad. They turn your brain to static – and Marshal set them free. Amo takes one on in a very dreamy fight that invovled Cerulean. But I never explained them. I didn’t set it up. Amo does nothing special to survive – he just is strong enough.
I thought – why not cut it? It is cool, but without it the story suddenly streamlines. Amo, Marshall, Lucas, the helmets. Everything clarifies. So I cut it. It may cause problems in book 8! Hopefully I can intro the lepers again, if needed.
Amo goes bad
In this book, Amo decides he must become the villain to make his people survive. He has to kill all the bunkers, tens of thousands of people. But not only become the villain, he decides he has to become cruel. He has to learn how to enjoy being cruel.
That was a shark-jumping moment. I pushed it very far. Amo just becomes awful – when his signature characteristic throughout the series has been his morality. He transgresses many times – like in book 1 when he wipes out the zombie horde then kills himself out of guilt – but his morality crashes him back into line. There is just something inside him that prevents him from enjoying this kind of horror.
This book squashed it. Amo died. So – what are we reading for now?
That’s the problem. There’s no good guy left. There is too much despair. And I have Amo doing that with a crazy, laughing kind of madness. So off-putting. I found myself reading and just not caring.
So – I had to try to walk the line. The series is about saving Amo’s soul, after all. So I can push him to the edge, but not beyond. To do this, I up the influence of Drake on him. I cut out any element of enjoying cruelty. I get rid of the mad laughing – and instead I just make Amo extremely intense on protecting his people. Much like Marshall. No need to go mad. Just go intense.
I’m pretty sure it’s better. I had some uncertainty – after I make him a good guy falling into awfulness, have I lost my narrative drive? Well, then I need to clarify Marshall – and make the coming clash between these two intense men more suspenseful. Have I achieved it? I really don’t know. What I need is some more reviews that either confirm this or don’t.
Do I keep the sympathy of the reader? Do I keep the interest?
Lessons for Wren
There are definite lessons for my thrillers in all this. Wren is always dark, but in book 3 he goes darker – getting similar to Amo. He never seems to enjoy it, but he easily goes dark.
It’s hard for readers to roll with that. I think I can still have Wren be brutal, but walk the line better with a few lines to show he’s reluctant to do this. I throw him into it with gusto and no pause – that’s fine – but he doesn’t like it. I can help this by clarifying further how necessary it is. He really believes he has to do it. He’s also right.
I’ll look at Saint Justice this coming week – in advance of the big Bookbub. Streamline, speed, but minor changes at best. Quite excited to dig in.