Yesterday I reviewed the excellent Patchwerk by David Tallerman. I’ve known David a faintly ridiculous amount of time and caught up with him a while back to discuss the book and what else is on the slate for him right now.
Tell us a little about Patchwerk
Patchwerk is my debut novella, released in January by Tor.com. It follows a scientist named Dran Florrian, in a future that may or may not be ours. Dran has spent the last few years working on a machine that he’s named Palimpsest – at the expense of his marriage and at least a little of his sanity – and only now, too late, has he realised just how dangerous and likely to fall into the wrong hands his creation is. We join him as he sets about trying to escape in a bid to minimise those risks, and only a little before than attempt starts to go horribly wrong – for Dran, Palimpsest itself, and potentially for the entire multiverse.
Basically, Patchwerk is my attempt at writing the sort of Hollwood science-fiction movie I’m really craving to see. It’s an action thriller driven by big, out-there ideas, and a relationship drama between two grown-up, intelligent people – one that isn’t necessarily a love story, though in their own ways they both have a great deal of love for each other.
I’m an unapologetic process nerd and reading these novellas is a fascinating class in how to structure stories in this small a space. How did working to this format change your usual process?
I’m not certain I even had a process at the time I wrote Patchwerk, which was around the summer of 2013, if memory serves. I wasn’t writing full time at that point, and I’d spent every free minute of the previous two years working on the second and third books of my Tales of Easie Damasco trilogy for Angry Robot. I gravitated towards a novella because my health was a wreck from trying to fit all that around twelve hour night shifts and a job that meant routinely commuting the length of the country; I wanted to write something substantial and knew that I was in no state to roll straight into another novel.
As it turned out, a novel might have been the less ambitious option! I set myself some steep challenges with Patchwerk, and it soon became apparent that a novella has to achieve the same things that a novel does in terms of pace, arcs, character development and so on, only in about a third of the space. You can get away with some things that a novel wouldn’t allow – I particularly like the fact that Patchwerk can realistically be read in one sitting – but basically you have to come at it in precisely the same way.
Was anything cut?
In terms of my usual self-editing, a great deal, but none of it anything substantial; there was very much tightening and tuning to get the sort of pace I was after. In terms of actual content, the original beginning was a flashback to the moment when Dran’s partner Karen left him, a bizarre decision that my editor, Lee Harris, quite rightly pointed out served no function at all and was a completely bonkers way to kick off a story. (Though he put it more politely than that!)
One of the things I really responded to was the way that you created a sense of landing in the middle of a world and working your way out. How much research and worldbuilding went into this?
In advance? Very little, and a fraction of what I’d do now. Patchwerk was the last lengthy work that I wrote without a plan in place, and the thought of doing that makes me cringe a little now that I’ve become a compulsive plotter. I had a clear handle on the beginning, a few landmarks I wanted to hit, a vague sense of the general arc, and that was about it. As for the research, and the world building from about the midway point, I winged it as and when it was needed.
It should be noted that, with the benefit of hindsight, this is not how I’d recommend writing a fairly complex, high concept science-fiction story! The consequence was tougher than usual redrafts and a lot of headaches from trying to retrospectively tease out the intricacies of my own story. Still, it was fun piecing together entire universes on the fly!
It also feels like a world with more stories to tell. Do you have plans to go back?
I’ve found that, however much you try and tie off every loose end, you always get to the end of a project wondering where things would go from there. But sometimes that’s your reader brain being curious, in the same way that it would be coming to the end of anyone’s story, and sometimes it’s your writer brain knowing that, whatever you might have thought when you set out, there’s more that needs doing with the characters and world you’ve set out. With Patchwerk, it was the former; I have a kind of ‘what if’ scenario that I know would be fun to explore, but that’s not because I necessarily feel that it has to be told before I can rest on Patchwerk. All of which is to say that if there was demand for a follow up then I’d certainly be happy to write it, but unless Tor.com specifically ask for it it’s unlikely to happen any time soon.
What’s next for you?
Not so much next as happening right now, but my illustrated collection of short horror and dark fantasy fiction The Sign in the Moonlight and Other Stories just came out from Canadian outfit Digital Fiction Publishing. I’m hopeful to have a novel out at the back end of the year, but I’m sworn to secrecy on that one so that’s about all I can say. If all goes to plan we should see at least one issue of mine and Anthony Summey’s comic book C21st Gods out from Rosarium this year. I have six or seven other books and projects at various stages, including a couple out with editors, so hopefully there’s plenty more on the way.