When are you going to write another Damar book?

I have no idea. It isn't up to me; it's up to the story.

This one makes me tear my hair out rather, and it may be the second most common question I hear, after Where do you get your ideas? (Or possibly third, after, Are you going to write a sequel to Sunshine?) And the answer is just as unsatisfactory. I suppose I shouldn't be surprised that people who aren't writers don't understand how out of conscious control the writing process is, but I get this question occasionally from other writers too which really makes me feel like I've taken a wrong turning somewhere and wound up on another planet where creativity is better organised.

There's some personal input to the long Damarian silence. The first Damarian novel was a Newbery Honor Book and the second one won the Medal itself, which is a big deal in the American Library Association world, and it was American librarians who accounted for 80% or more of my hardback sales. At the age, then, of thirty-two, three novels and four books into what I hoped was a long productive career, I was getting the worst, most hair-tearing question of all: So, what are you going to do with the rest of your life? I was not a very self-confident thirty-two-year-old, and it still seemed to me there was some kind of accident involved in my writing books at all: lightning had now struck three (or four) times, I was well over the line of probability, and What are you going to do with the rest of your life? clearly indicated that the only place to go from here was down. I'd also had a well-meaning editor tell me that it was naive if not arrogant for a writer to think that the reading public was going to go on wanting to read her books -- each author tends to have a very individual voice, after all, and to remain interested in many of the same themes and ideas, even if said author is clever enough to set the plot on Guam one novel and in Kalamazoo the next. The reading public will catch on, and say, Oh, no, not the meaning of life again?, and head for the video hire store. This conversation still haunts me.

At the same time, my stories are used to having to batter their way out through frenziedly inventive psychological obstacle courses -- my fears and neuroses are resourceful little monsters. So I believe there's more going on with the absence of the next Damar novel than just that I have a few screws loose. This comforts me, by the way, and I'm much harder on myself about everything than anyone else could ever be (if anyone ever managed it, they’d be locked up as a menace to society), so I can use a little alleviation of guilt.

It's also not that I haven't tried. The half million seriously out of control words referred to in the essay on how Rose Daughter got written are the next Damar novel, or rather, I think, the next three Damar novels. When I realised I had more than one novel on my hands (although I did like the idea of vaulting over the aggrieved fantasy trilogy question in one swell foop: Damar has never been a trilogy, even back in pre- Sworddays; it is and has always been a Series of Indefinite Length) I panicked. I fumbled finishing off the first one and when I sent it to my editor she turned it down. That manuscript, with a lot of drafts of what comes after, is still sitting in a couple of boxes in the attic at Third House. The thing is I can't keep three novels' worth of stuff in my head all at once. I might be able to hammer it down to two, but it's definitely more than one book, and the bones of my skull start smoking at the prospect. When I was first trying to write any of Damar at all -- fragments of those first attempts appear briefly in Aerin's visions at the end of Hero, after she falls through the ruin of Agsded's tower (and by the way, the God That Climbs and Falls is not a reference to Damarian religion, it's a joke) -- I felt overwhelmed by the amount of Story there was to divide up somehow into individual stories that I might be able to write down, since for some reason I seemed to have been elected Damar's historian. Well, perhaps this is Stage Two of the dividing up and sorting-out process.

. . . And that (or those) may not be the third, or the third and fourth, or the third, fourth and fifth Damar novel anyway. There are at least two more candidates for Damar novelhood cruising the shallows of my mind and my hard disc. One of them even made it to the end of a first draft: it was supposed to be an Elementals: Air story. But it started getting long. I have this little problem with short stories. . . .

I also take great -- arduous, exhausting -- pleasure in the other stories I write. What I've been doing with myself since Hero is, to me, time and blood and effort well spent (although I do wish I wrote a little faster). In my hierarchy Damar (nor Sunshine either) isn't the ultimate summit; there are other mountains around.

But the bottom line is, it isn't my choice. You don't write stories like you might build a bookcase. You don't get up in the morning, decide that you're going to put seven chapters together to make a novel, whip out your tape measure and decide how many words, order the paper by the square foot from the office supply shop, sit down and start stamping the pages with black ink in a quantifiable pattern, and polish off the rough edges with a sander at the end. It's not up to you. You write what you are given to write, and you just go on hoping you will go on receiving those gifts. Damar hasn't seen fit to oblige me to write about it lately. Maybe the administration there is still cross about all the things I got wrong in Sword and Hero, or is fed up with my timidity over that particular box in Third House’s attic.