Saturday, October 17, 2009

Tale of the Novels: Star Rigger's Way

Picking up the thread I began a couple of months ago, I'm going to continue spinning out some of my recollections of the writing of each of my novels—how they came about, what sticks in my memory of the creation process.

I talked before about my first novel, Seas of Ernathe, which was also my first novel of the Star Rigger universe—but not the first story set in that realm. That was "Alien Persuasion," a short story that I sold to Galaxy magazine and which appeared in 1975, prior to the novel. (Jim Baen, years before he went on to found Baen Books, bought my second published story.) That was a joyous breakthrough for me. The joy was tempered by my discovery that Galaxy's publisher was seriously behind in paying its writers. Nevertheless, they did publish it, and paid me for it, if somewhat late. (I was still waiting for payment for my first story, to Fiction magazine, at that time—so Galaxy was, I think, the first publisher to actually send me a check.) The story came out with lovely scratchboard illustrations by Freff, one of which I later bought from the artist. It's hanging on my office wall right now.

What does this have to do with my second novel, Star Rigger's Way? Well, after finishing Seas of Ernathe, I was casting about for the next thing to write. I had gotten an agent, Richard Curtis, who was waiting for me to float a proposal. I thought about "Alien Persuasion," a story about a human star-rigger and an alien rigger who had to learn to work together to survive. It seemed to me that what I had so far was the beginning of a story, not the full story. So I outlined a storyline to follow, noting that a rewritten version of the short work would form the first several chapters of the novel, and sent it off to my agent. Time passed. I had, during the writing of the first novel, moved from Providence, Rhode Island to Cambridge, Massachusetts, and was doing odd work to keep body and soul together. (Eventually, I worked for UPS as a sorter on the night shift, a job I truly loathed.)

In 1976 or '77, I was wandering around a local SF convention, Boskone, not knowing much of anyone. I had one novel published or about to be, and felt like a fish out of water—a pro, sort of, but not really. I eventually found myself in a quiet room, chatting with a writer and an agent. The writer was Joe Haldeman, whom I had just met at a SFWA business meeting. After a while, Joe and the agent got up to go to a publisher's party, and I meekly asked if I could tag along. Sure, they said. We went up the elevator, to a room somewhere. They went in. The host of the party, standing by the open door, stopped me and said, "I’m sorry, this isn't an open party." (In those days, closed publisher parties were much more the rule.) Then he looked at my name badge. "Jeffrey Carver," he said. "The star rigger story? I have your book proposal on my desk at Dell Books. I'm planning to call your agent on Monday to make an offer. I'm Jim Frenkel. Come on in." And that's how I got into my first publisher party and learned at the same time that I'd sold my novel.

I don't remember much about the writing of it. I've written in "Of Consoles and Dragons' Claws" some of my recollections. Mainly I remember that I was tentatively feeling my way into a career path of writing in much the same way Gev Carlyle, the hero of Star Rigger's Way, was making his way into his career of star rigging. Rather similar, the process of writing stories, and of steering starships in the Flux through the power of imagination—as my friend Jane Yolen later pointed out to me.

I had no idea that I would be writing a series of novels in the star rigger world. I was taking things one day at a time, one story at a time. This was a good beginning. The Science Fiction Book Club picked up the novel, and that got it in front of many more readers than the paperback alone would have. Years later, Tor reprinted it, and I had the chance to do a thorough line edit of the text. And now, just last spring, I went through it one more time, for the Ereads ebook. And rather to my surprise—I really enjoyed reading it again.

If you get the chance to read it, I hope you enjoy it, too.

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At 12:52 PM, Anonymous Jonathan Henderson said...

I distinctly recall owning (and reading!) a copy of "Seas of Ernathe" in the mid-70s, in a Laser Books edition. This was a sort of Harlequin Romance imprint for SF paperbacks; I think you got 3 a month or 3 a quarter or something.

For a time I had the entire series of 60 or so books; Seas of Ernathe was one of the earlier ones? It had a cover painting by Kelly Freas, I think, that didn't seem to match the contents of the book very well.

Or am I completely mis-remembering this?

At 1:38 PM, Blogger Jeffrey A. Carver said...

You've got most of it right. Laser was an SF imprint from Harlequin, engineered by the late Roger Elwood. Kelly Freas did all the covers. Real fast, real cheap, not his best work, to put it mildly. The cover matched the contents in the sense that it showed an underwater scene. :)

My book was #34 in the series.


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