How Planet Masters was Written

Planet Masters was my first novel, published by St Martins’s Press in 1979. It was published in England by Sidgwick & Jackson, with a different cover, and reissued by ReAnimus Press, with the cover shown here.

The story came to me all at once. We were living in a mobile home park west of Carrboro, NC. Diane was working on her Ph.D. I was trying to become a writer. Occasionally I would walk the three miles or so into town (we had only one car) to do some shopping, then come home with Diane. I was walking across the UNC-CH campus toward her office and, out of nowhere, the whole plot came to me, from beginning to end. I was surprised. How neat! But I knew I had something that could be easily lost, so I ran through the whole plot again, just so I would remember it. Then I did it again, just to make sure. I wrote it down when we got home.

From those notes I created the only plot outline that ever really worked for me. Each scene had just one line, one sentence, which did not tell what happened, but told instead the scene’s ending, what had been achieved. Not “he tries to find his lost dog,” but “he finds his dog in a bowling alley.” It’s a big difference. I’ll have to try it again some time.

I was working on another novel when this happened, so I put The Fool, as it was called then, aside, and finished the draft I was working on. I have no memory of what it was about. I found an map I had drawn of an elaborate fictitious city, and used it to determine where the action took place. And then, with everything else out of the way, I sat down on the sofa with my pen and stack of second-hand computer paper (we were poor then), and started writing. All in one go, I wrote about 75,000 words in eight and a half days. This was the only time I have been so strongly stricken by inspiration.

It was called “The Fool” because my hero was, in a way, a fool; because he looked and behaved like one, which gave him an advantage over people who underestimated him; and for the Tarot card, which is complex, and can mean new beginnings, innocence, spontaneity, and a free spirit, but can also mean naivety, recklessness, foolishness, and risk-taking. It also means, watch where you’re going. You might just get what you asked for. But my publisher thought “The Planet Masters” was a better title.

I have been inspired many times since then, but never to that extent. I have never, however, waited for inspiration to come to me, I just kept on writing. Inspiration strikes out of the blue, never when called, never when waited for.

But it can be prepared for — by reading, doing research, establishing a comfortable work space, letting one’s imagination run off in all directions at once… Sometimes it’s just for a scene. Or a chapter. Or sometimes a whole volume in a series. For me inspiration most frequently comes early in the morning, just as I’m waking up. Or when I’m walking, paying no attention, and not thinking of much of anything. Sometimes when I see or hear or read something that seems to have no bearing, but triggers associations. I never make notes of conversations, people’s behavior, the places I’ve been, I just absorb them all into my unconscious. But when I recognize an inspiration, even when I don’t know yet what it’s for, I do write that down. As I did for Sturgis.

Sometimes, when I’m writing, I just let myself go. Volume  two of The Black Ring was written straight through without any outline, any plotting, only very little in the way of background. But I knew where it started, and where it ended, and discovered the story, page by page as I went from one to the other.

Inspiration is strange, unpredictable, but it comes to you when you let it.


You can read a sample here.