Nobody's Son: author's notes

The Process

This book was written during the first year of my eldest daughter's life. I was the stay-at-home parent, so every day when she went down for her mid-day nap, I would leap to the word processor and work feverishly for the 1 1/2 hours she usually slept. Heavier lifting was done in 6-10 hour stints on the weekend.

The Obligatory Stewart Inversion

"But what would Happily Ever After really be like?" The central premise of Nobody's Son is the clearest example of what seems to be a constant feature of my work: subjecting some commonplace sf/f move to a reality check. (People often come to me after reading Passion Play and say, "You know, usually being empathic is like having a superpower, but you don't even make it sound fun.")

To the extent that Nobody's Son is an interrogation of folk or fairy-tale based fantasy, Clouds End (Ace, August '96) is perhaps a deeper questioning of high or quest fantasy.

I will say it has been lovely to write one book with a hook you can get across in one snappy sentence. Sales reps love this trait.

Structural Notes

The narrative engine of the book is the excellent Two Couples strategy, lifted from some more illustrious works, for example Pride and Prejudice, Middlemarch, and Women in Love.

In writing fiction, some structures just hold energy well, just as some chemical bonds are stronger and more stable than others. The Two Couples design is nearly perfect for exploring some kinds of relationships: the lovers talk to each other, the men talk to the men about the women, the women talk about the men, and then the non-partners can talk over their relationship problems with an interested member of the opposite sex.

Lady Jane & Mr. Alexander

It usually comes as a surprise to people when I tell them that the book I read and reread while writing Nobody's Son was Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. I was fascinated by the way her narrative moved with such wit and speed in the absence of any action, in the usual sense. No gun-play, no car chases -- just people feeling things for one another and talking about how they felt.

One peculiar side effect, perhaps, of this Austen binge was that the first drafts of Nobody's Son developed a very curious gait: 1 page description, 10 pages dialogue, one paragraph transition; 1 page description, 10 pages dialogue, one paragraph transition. . .

Five years after having written the first draft, it now seems clear to me that, among many other things, Nobody's Son is in part a homage to Lloyd Alexander's Prydain books. Gail has obvious similarities to Princess Eilonwy, and much of the emotional center of the book recalls Taran Wanderer.


Most of my work is entirely made in revision. The first half of the Ashes chapter, however, remains almost untouched from the first draft. Like many authors, I am perfectly capable of writing the most gruesome or tragic scene with a merry whistle; the opening 2 1/2 pages of this chapter is the only thing I can remember writing while crying.

Bibliographic Note

Nobody's Son was first published in Canada by Maxwell Macmillan, then principally a publisher of Young Adult novels. As I had written the book about issues that I only began to approach in depth at the age of 25, I was a bit non-plussed by this, but frankly, they paid very well.

Maxwell's print run was, I believe, 2500 trade paperbacks and 500 hardcovers, making the latter rather rare.

An early review of the book drew to my attention certain infelicities of language. The book is set "once upon a time" -- not in any given historical or linguistic era. Nevertheless, there were some anachronisms which were just too anachronistic. When Ace decided to publish the book, I wheedled permission to change 10-15 of the most glaring examples. (One that remains: Mark's references to haywire, which wasn't invented until near the turn of this century. Hell with it. I like it.)

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