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Topic Archive: Slaves of the Switchboard of Doom
A novel of Retropolis - coming from Tor Books in 2017 Slaves of the Switchboard of Doom - cover image

“...This novel gave me a happy buzz. Remember when SF used to be upbeat and fun? Well, the fun is back and it's right here.”

“...a madcap mash-up of retro-sf, full of fearless heroes and heroines dashing about like Flash Gordon meets the Keystone Cops.”

“Like a madcap retro-tech collaboration by Terry Pratchett and Isaac Asimov. I loved it!”

21 Illustrated Chapters of Adventure
Out on the roof with Slaves of the Switchboard of Doom

Filed under Slaves of the Switchboard of Doom, Thrilling Tales of the Downright Unusual, Works in Progress

The city of the retro future, from Slaves of the Switchboard of Doom

Here’s the latest illustration for Slaves of the Switchboard of Doom: this one’s for the final chapter in the book, though this isn’t the last illustration in the set.

One reason this picture took longer than most of the others was the little pigeon-like ornithopter in the foreground. The ornithopters show up many times in the story, but up to now I didn’t need them in any of the scenes I set out to illustrate. So here I was, nearly at the end of the long, long series, and I found that I needed an ornithopter after all. I spent several days building one.

The other reason this took awhile is that it’s not the picture I planned to do next. I thought I was going to work on the illustration for the first chapter. I continued to think that through threeor maybe even fourfalse starts, until I realized that I ought to set that one aside to simmer for a bit and do this one, instead.

It may be that I’d spent so much time thinking about the first chapter’s illustration that my brain had decided that This Is Really Important, and brains shouldn’t be allowed to think things like that, because when they do, things like this happen.

But my brain and I need to come to some kind of understanding about that now; the first chapter is the only one left to go. After that, I want to do some rework on about six of the existing illustrations, and after that, I have a pair of two page spreads to do. Those are meant to be sort of like endpapers: one at the start, and one at the end, and between them they should show us all the major characters in the book. Even with twenty-one illustrations there are a lot of people, both human and mechanical, who didn’t get their close-up. Or their long shot, for that matter.

And then (finally!) all the illustration work should be done and I can get back to worrying about what’ll become of the book. Because, you know, I haven’t been thinking about that. At all. Not me. Oh, no.

Back to the illustrations for Slaves of the Switchboard of Doom

Filed under Slaves of the Switchboard of Doom, Thrilling Tales of the Downright Unusual, Works in Progress

Chapter 11 illustration for Slaves of the Switchboard of Doom

My brain’s polygon-melting beam of inspiration has turned back to the illustrations for Slaves of the Switchboard of Doom. Which is to say, I’ve had my coffee.

The whole polygon-melting thing, which admittedly is a little much, really happened a few days ago. But it’s only now – now that I have new stuff to show for it – that I feel like it’s official.

This illustration for Chapter 11 gives us a view of a robot showroom, where the indentures for new robots are sold to the public. Indentures? Robots are persons, and we don’t approve of owning persons. Unless we’re a villain, I mean. So an indenture is like a loan that finances the robot’s manufacture: when the robot works off the loan, he or she becomes a free agent. And, usually, a member of the Fraternal League of Robotic Persons.

This is one of three illustrations that needed a whole bunch of robots; I’m working now on the third of those. Looking back, it seems that I modeled about a dozen new robots for the story. That’s a little hard to measure because I built one of them far in advance, so he’s shown up in a few places already; and then there’s another who turned out to be a specific character I want to use later, so he’s gone back on the shelf. But technically? About a dozen.

Slaves of the Switchboard of Doom: Title page

I have just four more chapter illustrations to do. I also have six that will be taking a trip back to the shop for a little more work. After that, a pair of two-page spreads of character portraits; and then the illustrations will be done.

When? Probably some time in September. I think.

So it’s some time in September (I think) when I’ll try to figure out how Phase Two of the project is going. Early indications are good, but not conclusive.

The book has two chapters that still worry me a little. Chapter Two probably wants my attention in an editorial, voicey, copy editing kind of way. But the eleventh chapter….

There are times when you want it to be possible for a reader to understand something in advance. To make that happen, it can’t be impossible to get it; but it should also be possible to miss it. I’ve handled one or two of those elsewhere in the book, but Chapter Eleven still worries me a bit. I reworked that chapter quite a bit in my latest (fifth) draft. I’m a lousy tester for the problem because I already know what the reader might start to suspect . That’s an area where I hope for some new feedback during Phase Two.

I just can’t pretend that I’m a new reader any more. The fix for that? New readers.

But in the meantime: more art!

Slaves of the Switchboard of Doom: the Terror of the Slush Pile, and More Robots

Filed under Slaves of the Switchboard of Doom, Thrilling Tales of the Downright Unusual, Works in Progress

Slaves of the Switchboard of Doom: WIP

Here’s an updated shot from the Illustration Green Room, where a growing mob of robot characters are more or less patiently waiting for their appearances. We’re running out of magazines in there.

For those who came in late: after several self-published books, I’ve been experimenting with that whole (very) long process that we’ve come to know as "traditional publishing".

That process usually starts with a writer contacting a bunch of literary agents (in this case, twenty-one). That was my Phase One. Apart from a terrific response from my first choice, the results of my agent search went pretty much the way they go for everybody else. I do have one unusual hold-out who’s still planning to read the book even though he’s encouraged me to embark on Stage Two.

In Stage Two, instead of risking humiliation and despair at the hands of literary agents I go directly to the source of humiliation and despair: editors!

Even those writers who pass the trials of what I’ve called Phase One still have a Phase Two to face; in their case it’s the agent who submits to editors. Those of us who still don’t have agents end up in a slush pile of manuscripts that, for editors, is kind of like the Augean stables. Possibly in more ways than one. But – importantly – a slush pile resembles the Augean stables because it can never be exhausted. It just keeps piling up.

You really don’t want your book in slush pile: there’s no way of knowing when it may come out. But I begin Phase One with a leg up, since an editor who noticed my posts about the book has asked to see it. So, for the moment, no slush pile for me. Just another, but completely different, long wait until there may or may not be news. That’s an encapsulated description of traditional publishing, and also of trench warfare.

The agent search ran for a good six months, or… a six months, anyway, and Phase Two has a timetable that’s at least that horrifying. Especially if it turns out that I do have a slush pile in my future. But in the meantime I’m still working on that freelance job I mentioned earlier, and so my work on the illustrations for Slaves of the Switchboard of Doom has been delayed. I’ve been building the robot models I need for some of the remaining pictures, but it would be difficult to work on the illustrations themselves until this side job is behind me. Hence: the state of the Green Room, above.

Send magazines.

More robots, less thrust for Slaves of the Switchboard of Doom

Filed under Slaves of the Switchboard of Doom, Thrilling Tales of the Downright Unusual, Works in Progress

Inside Dash Kent's retro rocket ship

Here are Dash Kent and Nola Gardner in the cockpit of Dash’s Actaeon rocket, in an illustration for Chapter 19 of Slaves of the Switchboard of Doom. This is almost exactly like the office I wish I had.

In the office I really do have, of course, something else is going on. A freelance project is slowing down my work on Switchboard‘s illustrations. I’ve been able to use the odd stray hour to build new robot models for several of the remaining illustrations – about six robots, so far – and Chapter 18 is looking pretty good, too, in its not really ready yet state.

The clock is running out on Stage One of my experiment with traditional publishing. Before I start Stage Two I want to make some minor revisions to the manuscript, based on some of the feedback I’ve gotten from readers (including me).

I haven’t mentioned one really gratifying response from a Real Live Author who enjoyed the heck out of the book, and asked if he could show it around to his high-falutin’ friends (yes, please!)

The thing I enjoyed most about this was that he planned to ask them "Am I crazy for loving this book?" and although I didn’t tell him so I had this very clear mental image of him standing around with, you know, AUTHORS, in front of a fridge. He had a milk carton full of my book in his hand, and he was saying "Does this smell bad to you? It doesn’t smell bad to me. Does it smell bad to you?"

This is the way my mind works. I’m not saying it’s a good way. It’s just the way I’ve got.

Anyway, freelance work may prevent me from finishing the illustrations quite as soon as I planned: but Stage Two will be its own shambling horror show of excruciating slowness. Slowth? So I’ve probably got the time to spare.

The unsung extras from Slaves of the Switchboard of Doom

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Hazel the robot, from Slaves of the Switchboard of Doom

So you’ve seen the Green Room, where my characters while away the hours until their names come up on the call sheet; and really, all the characters get to enjoy its amenities. But so far we’ve only looked at named characters: those human and mechanical people who have lines, or – if they’re not equipped for speech – something like lines.

But that’s not everyone: in Slaves of the Switchboard of Doom there are hundreds of robots from the Fraternal League of Robotic persons; there’s a council room filled with the Priests of the Spider God; there are plenty of switchboard operators who pitch in, but never chime in; and so on. And at last there are those characters who simply mill around in the backgrounds of the illustrations. Like Hazel, here.

Hazel falls into that category of character actors who we see over and over again in the old studio films. She’s individual enough to stand out even though she never gets a line. If she minds at all, she won’t let on. Hazel’s a pro.

Hazel’s especially useful to me because her silhouette is so distinctive. I need a bunch of robots. I’m still modelling them as they’re needed for one chapter or another. In order to give them plenty of personality in such humble roles, I’m trying to create varied body types.

The fact is, though, I’m kind of taken with Hazel here. I may have to give her a bigger role in the future. That’s it, hon: I can make you a star.

Slaves of the Switchboard of Doom cover
Slaves of the Switchboard of Doom – behind the scenes extra!

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Slaves of the Switchboard of Doom: Characters in the Green Room

I don’t often show behind-the-scenes images from my work here in the Secret Laboratory. This may be a character defect. I’ve wondered about that before.

But people do get curious; it’s natural enough. So here’s a rare shot from behind the scenes that explains what happens between the time I build and texture a character, and the time that character shows up in an illustration. That may take weeks, or even months, so the Secret Laboratory’s Green Room is as comfortable as I can make it.

In this corner of the Green Room we see R-54KG and Davies. They’re catching up on the latest news until they’re needed for Chapter 18.

The characters in the Green Room amuse themselves in all sorts of ways, many of which require some clean-up and damage control because, well… that’s just how they are. Increasingly, though, they’ve kept their noses buried in their Info-Slates: they just tune out the other characters around them. Now I myself have been accused of being on the introverted side, but this behavior strikes even me as antisocial. So I’m planning to add some board games.

The Green Room’s come a long way since Trapped in the Tower of the Brain Thieves. Back then, there wasn’t even a Craft Service table. Hard to believe!

Slaves of the Switchboard of Doom, the Republic Serials version

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Slaves of the Switchboard of Doom:  3d Serial Title

If we ignore the fact that I was just goofing around, we’ll be free to imagine that this is the title card for the Republic Serials version of Slaves of the Switchboard of Doom. There. Aren’t we happier now?

I thought so. Now I’ll go and put on my “Better Living Through Mindless Escapism” T-shirt.

Meanwhile. . . in the world that is somewhat more real than the one we visited so briefly. . . I’m working on the fourteenth illustration for the book. It’s being mean to me, so I’m playing around with extruded titles.

On the querying front: I’m preparing to wind down. The queries that are still out there amount to two agents with the first five pages; three agents with the first two chapters; two agents with the first three chapters; and one agent with the full manuscript. I have two or three queries I’d still like to send in the next week or so, but then I’ll just wait out the agents’ response periods (assuming that they pass on the book) and at last move on to Phase Two, Attack on the Editor’s Tower.

Cover concept for Slaves of the Switchboard of DoomPhase Two will involve fewer characters but will last at least as long as Phase One since, well, that’s just how it is. In the frenetically glacial pace of the publishing process, I mean. I can’t say that I haven’t learned anything that I didn’t already know in the abstract, but the realities somehow still surprise me.

One does get a sense of what it must be like at the big, open end of the funnel that is the Inboxes of the literary agents. They have plenty more to do, apart from fielding queries, and although they are legion they’re still outnumbered by hundreds to one when you compare them to the hosts of queriers.

At the level of editors, that funnel mouth isn’t necessarily smaller. I guess in order to change things you’d need a vastly more profitable business or an army of brilliant, unpaid interns who never burn out. Which, now that I think of it, is perfectly possible in the world of Slaves of the Switchboard of Doom. . . so long as you’re willing to be the villain.

Vintage Allies interviews me, and here’s a new robot for Slaves of the Switchboard of Doom

Filed under Slaves of the Switchboard of Doom, Works in Progress

Retro Robot character from 'Slaves of the Switchboard of Doom'

Vintage Allies has posted an interview with me, which means that they asked me questions and I tried not to sound like an idiot. How did that work out? You decide.

In other news, here’s a robot character I’ve just finished for Slaves of the Switchboard of Doom. He’s a minor character, but in spite of that he’s got to be there in one of the illustrations: so here he is.

Those illustrations, since you ask, are coming along pretty much on schedule even though I somehow decided to add a title page illustration (it’s nice!). I’m about halfway done with the whole set. That means my ballpark estimate of "sometime in June or July" is still looking good.

Of course I’ve got even more robots and control rooms and escalators to model along the way. So, you know, fingers crossed.

Oh, and it looks like I found a new (browser specific?) bug that’s whacking out some of the posters people build with the Pulp-O-Mizer. I have to fit a little testing and fixing in there too, then.


Slaves of the Switchboard of Doom: I Aten’t Dead

Filed under Slaves of the Switchboard of Doom, Thrilling Tales of the Downright Unusual, Works in Progress

Slaves of the Switchboard of Doom_ illustration for Chapter Two

I see I haven’t posted an update since last month about my experiment with the world of traditional publishing. I’ve mentioned that I’m working through a short list of those literary agents who I think would be helpful and interested in Slaves of the Switchboard of Doom. That list has grown a bit as I’ve gone on since I’ve had the time to do additional research, and that’s led me to new names.

I was encouraged a couple of weeks back when I re-read Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus (which is wonderful), and found that it had been rejected thirty or thirty-one times before she signed with an agent. My list is a little less than half that long, andbeing an old codgermy patience may be a little shorter, too. Ms. Morgenstern is too young to worry about the carrion birds that may be circling outside the window.

Two of the agents who’ve risen to the top of my list say that they take up to eight weeks to respond to a query. That’s a long time, in codger weeks, anyway. So I’ve decided that they’ll define my cut-off date. After some time in late May I’ll abandon the search for an agent and submit to a couple of publishers. I say "a couple" because the wait for an editor to reject a writer is usually longer than the waits I’m going through now. Refer above: codger, patience, carrion birds.

I know that a lot of people take these rejections personally. The fact is, though, that there is nothing personal about this process so it wouldn’t make much sense to take it personally. The great majority of the agents who’ve passed on the book have never seen it, or any part of it; a few have seen the first five pages. There’s no way to know whether they’ve even read Slaves of the Switchboard of Doomwhat they did get. I have to admit that an email titled Query: SLAVES OF THE SWITCHBOARD OF DOOM might sound like something that they don’t want to read. But even that isn’t personal. It’s just a preconception.

The crazy thing about this process is that I started with an agent I figured I had no hope of working with, and that’s where I got the most positive response of all (and a full reading of the book). Go figure.

So, assuming rejections, sometime in late May I’ll turn the book over to one editor who’s asked to see it; after that, oneor possibly twoother publishers. But come June or July I’ll have finished the book’s illustrations and I have to figure that by then I’ll be in the mood to get something done. Once again: codger, patience, carrion birds.

I have been giving a lot of thought to the problem of launching a self-published book in a way that dovetails with the way a traditionally published book is launched. Odds are I’ll be putting those thoughts to the test: sometime after July, plus or minus a slush pile.

Slaves of the Switchboard of Doom: on the road and making friends

Filed under Slaves of the Switchboard of Doom, Thrilling Tales of the Downright Unusual, Works in Progress

Slaves of the Switchboard of Doom: Chapter 4 illustration

My query for Slaves of the Switchboard of Doom is doing almost exactly what we see Rusty and Harry Roy doing up above in the book’s illustration for Chapter Four. It’s knocking on select and enviable doors throughout New York, looking for a home.

Except that’s not what they’re doing, and they’re not in New York, and unlike New York, Retropolis is not populated entirely by literary agents. But otherwise, yep, pretty much exactly like that.

Agency #1 read the manuscript and sent back just about the most positive rejection you could ask for, if that’s something you wanted to ask for. And that was nice, considering I’ve started with agents whose boots I am not fit to. . . etc. In fact this was much better than I’d expected and it proved a pretty good test of the book’s query letter.

Agency #2 is more elusive and may be very protective of its boots or, possibly, goes barefoot. Today the query’s been unleashed on Agency #3. No news yet on their footwear over there.

As I mentioned earlier, I’m working through quite a short list of agents while I work on the illustrations. Over the past few days I modeled several robot heads, and a body for one of them. This book is just lousy with robots. That means I’ve got several more to build.

So: busy me, busy query letter, and in general, business. Or busyness. Or something. And boots, apparently.

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