How Star God was Written

Planet Masters was easy to write. I thought Star God would be just as easy, but it was not. I had no inspiration, just an idea. I didn’t know how to develop a plot, or what a plot was. I didn’t know how to organize an outline. Even the ideas I had were, to put it mildly, a little vague.

I knew the story would be set somewhere in the future, when we had star travel, and when the Earth was threatened by an extra-solar non-corporeal sentient cloud of organized neutrinos — or something. It was impossible, but it was supposed to be outside all the science we knew. I knew that my protagonest would be set out searching for a way to save the Earth, in what I would later understand was a quest. I knew that I wanted several bizarre and almost incomprehensible alien races and cultures. And I would create several highly unusual but astronomically possible star systems. I knew that my protagonist would be erevocably changed by his experiences, and would come back, not a hero, but a Hero.

If I were to take advantage today, what I knew about the story then, I could create something much better than I did. But I really didn’t know what I was doing when I wrote it, and the ease of Planet Masters deceived me. I created the cosmic being, it’s threat to the whole world, the hero and his sidekick, set up his obstacles, the problems and their solutions, and started writing. After eight or ten pages I came to a standstill — writer’s block.

Some writers I know don’t believe in writer’s block. They say, just keep on writing and you’ll write yourself out of it. I’ve tried that, but it didn’t work. Twice I forced myself to write sequels to a very early version of what was to become The Black Ring. It was more than difficult, it hurt the whole time, mentally, spiritually, and even physically. But I kept on and finished them. But when I tried to read them later, I could not. The writing, characters, and events were so bad, that it was like trying to eat garbage. I left the manuscripts (written long-hand) on a shelf in my office for twenty years or so. I tried to read them again, and they were worse than I remembered. I needed the shelf space, so I recycled the paper,.

I won’t say that forcing myself to write, against all instinct, two long novels which couldn’t be read, was a total waste of time. I learned one thing. I should never force myself to keep writing when my instinct tells me that there’s something wrong and makes me stop. Instead of beating my head against a brick wall, even if I do ultimately punch a hole in it, I should step back and try to figure out why I was forced to stop. In my experience, there is always a reason. Fix the problem, then go back to writing. Sometimes it takes a while to find the problem, but forced writing really is a waste of time, and accomplishes nothing.

When my first try at Star God stopped short, instead of pushing on, as people would later suggest, I put it aside and started over again. It would have been the right thing to do, as I now know all to well, if I had actually done that. Instead, I felt that some parts of that failed start were pretty good. I didn’t want to waste them, so I decided to use them in the new start. And after about eight or ten pages, I came to a stand-still, at about the same place in the story as before. My second try was almost exactly the same as my first try, though I had inteded to start from scratch.

So I put it aside, and started a third time. But there were some good parts in that second try, and I didn’t want to waste them, so I copied them in. And came to a halt at about the same place as before. Now I knew what I had to do.

Those days we heated with wood, which I cut myself from a friend’s woodlot, taking the scraggly sapplings and leaners. We really couldn’t afford enough gas to heat our home. And it was winter, and the stove was going. I looked at my three failed starts, not quite identical, and knew that if I started again, the temptation to use the “good parts” of the previous tries would be too great. So I took the pages to the stove, put them in, and watched them burn. Then I stirred the ashes. Then I went back to work. And this time I got past the sticking point.

I don’t remember much else about the writing, except that it took several months instead of a few days. I typed it up, on a Smith Corona electric, then revised the pages with a red pen. I retyped it (I hate typing — not composing, just typing) and read it through again. And retyped it again. It was pretty good, I thought. I sent it to my publishers, they bought it, and it came out with a dreadful cover, not the one it has now.

I reread Star God many years later. I could see that while it was epic in scope, with bizarre aliens and cultures, and strange but truly possible star systems, and a hero ready to make any sacrifice to accomplish his goal, it lacked the excitement and enthusiasm of Planet Masters. It was written from my head, not my gut. It’s a pretty good story, but my editors could tell that it didn’t live up to the promise of my first novel. They didn’t offer me a third book.

I am, of course, my own harshest critic, as all writers (or other artists) are — or should be. I know people liked the book, it sold reasonably well, and it still sells in its reisue from ReAnimus Press []. But it could have been better. I did not learn the lesson it had for me until many years later, that the best of ideas, if not driven by excitement, enthusiasm, and heart, are not good enough.

Anyway, here’s the cover it has now, by Darcy.


You can read a sample here.