How Crown of the Serpent was Written

After Jewels of the Dragon came out, and had earned back its advance and more, I asked my editor what I should do next — a sequel or something new. As soon as he said “sequel,” I knew that I shouldn’t have asked. Jewels was supposed to be a stand-alone, and now I was being told to write book two in a series.

I decided to do it. In those days, saying no would have ended my fragile career. I also decided to give the book a fantasy title similar to the one I had given Jewels. And I decided, if I was going to do a series, I would go ahead and come up with basic ideas and titles for eight more books. A series of ten seemed reasonable to me. I didn’t outline or sketch any of them, I just made a note of a basic idea. I still have those notes. I knew I would have a much better idea about how to develop the stories those notes suggested, if I gave them time to sit in the back of my head and ferment.

But I had a couple problems. The big one revealed itself to me while I was writing the first book, and that was that I didn’t know how to write female characters, except in minor supporting roles. I’m not the only one who has this problem. I know, now, how to write a female character in any role at all, and I even have several female viewpoint heroes. But because I didn’t know how to do it then, I decided that even though Darcy Glemtide had teamed up with Rikard Braeth on a more or less permanent basis by the end of Jewels, I would write her out of the story.

(There is no connection between Darcy Glemtide and (Julia) Darcy Wold. I just like the name. My daughter was not named after the character in Jewels, nor after Mr. Darcy of Pride and Prejudice, or Mr. Darcy O’Brien, professor of English at Pomona College, nor after any other Darcys I knew.)

If I hadn’t done that, I wouldn’t have had the second big problem, which was that Rikard needed a companion, or sidekick, someone to talk to about stuff, to take some of the burden off the narrator. Rikard had a crew, but there would be times when he would be more or less on his own. If I had kept Darcy Glemtide, she would have been nearly perfect. But I didn’t know how to use her. And she would have presented me with problems of another sort, which I wouldn’t know how to deal with until many years later. That is, their relationship was romantic.

I didn’t know how to talk with girls or women until late in my college career, and I had had almost no dates. I had no romantic experiences, until I returned to California, a year after graduating, and had the immense good fortune to meet and get along with Diane, who seemed to get along well with me, too, and whom I married, over fifty years ago.

So I had to invent several new sidekicks for him, and they served the purpose. But the story would have been different if Rikard and Darcy had worked as a team, as they had during the first book. I would have no difficulty today writing about any aspect of a permanent romantic relationship. But back then, I had only the one example, and I had no intention of using that one highly successful relationship as a model for Rikard and Darcy. I wasn’t Rikard, and Diane wasn’t Darcy.

I can see now that I was trying too hard. I the problem was too big, the context and background were too big, there was too much conflict. And there was not enough character development. As one reviewer put it, it read too much like a YA novel. I didn’t understand that until I reread Crown some years later.

I did get to use various aliens as supporting characters. And I learned, after spending several days, and rewriting the same five or six pages many times, that trying to describe the aftermath of a huge battle was just not working, that the best thing was to just write, “They separated living from dead, friend from enemy,” and get on with it. I reduced six unreadable pages to one or two sentences. That lesson has served me well several times. It was the easy way out, and it was the right way.

One of the ironies is that, by the end of the book, Rikard wound up with a new permanent sidekick after all. But there was no danger of a romantic entanglement — Endark Droagn was a giant, four-armed serpent.


You can read a sample here.