Brainstorming NAVIGATORS OF DUNE

It’s the grand finale of the Great Schools of Dune trilogy, which we launched with SISTERHOOD OF DUNE in fall of 2011 then followed up with MENTATS OF DUNE in March 2014, and now we will complete with NAVIGATORS OF DUNE.

Sisterhood

Right after we delivered the final manuscript of MENTATS OF DUNE in March 2013, Brian and I were together in Seattle doing promotion for HELLHOLE AWAKENING. We did a book signing at University Books and also appeared at the NorWescon science fiction convention. But because we had just delivered book 2 and had all the storylines in our heads,  we didn’t want to miss the rare opportunity of being in the same city at the same time. So, we carved out an afternoon, sat down in a diner not too far from the NorWescon convention, and spent hours figuring out how we were going to wrap up all those plotlines. We had a great, invigorating session, throwing around a lot of ideas, and took copious notes in the broad strokes of the plot for NAVIGATORS OF DUNE.

HHawakemm

But that novel wasn’t next on our plate. Later that year we also had to write the epic finale to our Hellhole trilogy, HELLHOLE INFERNO—but we were smart to get those NAVIGATORS ideas down on paper while everything was fresh.  We finished HELLHOLE INFERNO and delivered it, and we also had plenty of other projects to focus on. Brian had THE LITTLE GREEN BOOK OF CHAIRMAN RAHMA, and I had THE DARK BETWEEN THE STARS and my Dan Shamble, Zombie PI series. HELLHOLE INFERNO was published in August 2014, and we got caught up in promoting that novel.

LittleGreen DarkBetweenTheSta  Hellhole-Inferno

But it was time to get to work on our next important project: NAVIGATORS OF DUNE, and for that we needed some good solid time to brainstorm. Brian and I compared calendars and found a time when we could get together in October, four days 20-23. I flew in to Seattle, reviewing all of those Norwescon diner notes during the plane trip; we had each previously skimmed over MENTATS OF DUNE to refresh our memories. Brian called me while I was waiting to board the ferry, and he was eager to start brainstorming already, so we tossed some new ideas back and forth. When he picked me up from the terminal, we were talking about the book from the moment I got in the car. With our notes, we stopped at a brand new local microbrewery for an IPA and initial brainstorming, then off to Brian’s house for more brainstorming.

Mentats Cover

We already had the broad strokes of the story, from the diner conversation more than a year earlier, but we started to fill in the details, coming up with more cool ideas to connect plot lines. To avoid burnout too soon, we went out to dinner at our favorite local Thai restaurant with Brian’s wife Jan, then back to the house for more brainstorming, then we called it a night. Next morning with a fresh (and large) pot of coffee, we started in again. We took advantage of the clear, sunny day (a rarity in the Pacific Northwest this time of year) and went out for a nice hike, because we find that’s an excellent way to get the creative energies flowing.  More great ideas.  Then dinner at a local pub, and back to the house for a break—our brains were mush by then!—to watch a movie.  Brian loves classic movies and he always convinces me to watch some old black-and-white classic.  I usually grumble, but I usually end up enjoying the movie (because Brian has good recommendations). For the first night, he suggested a John Wayne classic “Red River” (yes, I liked it), and the following night we agreed on “The Grapes of Wrath” (I liked that one, too).

For our second full day of brainstorming, we started breaking down the big story into chapters, characters, story lines, separating them into broad plots, and then started the hard detail work of dividing the big plots into discrete chapters, and then to interweave them.  How to wrap up the grand story of Vorian Atreides, one of our most popular characters ever, and his blood-feud with Valya Harkonnen? What will Valya do with the Sisterhood?  Emperor Roderick Corrino in his crisis, caught in the titanic struggle between the barbarian fanatics led by Manford Torondo and Anari Idaho and the enlightened but ruthless forces of Josef Venport and his Navigators. And the evil robot Erasmus…the slightly insane Anna Corrino, the hellish research lab on poisonous Denali, the new cymeks…  It’s a lot to organize!

Sometimes Brian would type furiously on the laptop, sometimes I would.  By the time we played “The Grapes of Wrath” that evening, with a nice bottle of red wine open, we were again drained, but feeling pretty good—we had a solid, dramatic story that just needed to be fine tuned.

Next morning, we went out to another diner for breakfast, still working on some of the finer plot points, connecting some strands, but we already had a lot keyed in, and it just needed to be organized and broken down.  Brian drove me to the ferry after a quick lunch, and I was on my way home. NAVIGATORS OF DUNE is our *eighteenth* book together since 1996—so we’ve really figured out how to get the best out of each other.

On the flight back home I mulled over the notes, with noise-cancelling headphones on, just with good solid concentration time. I organized the notes and outlines more, and then when I got home for the next few days I worked on it more.  About a week later, I sent Brian my first cut breakdown, about 70 chapters, and then sent it back to him for his editing.  Brian dove into the outline for several weeks while I buried myself in the final revisions and edit of my 750-page novel BLOOD OF THE COSMOS. He expanded the outline to about 82 chapters and did some sanding and polishing to make the pieces fit together better, then sent it back to me.

I had to let it cool off while I finished my BLOOD OF THE COSMOS edit, and last week I gave that final manuscript to my wife Rebecca for her detailed copy-edit on the prose. That gave me the chance to work on the NAVIGATORS OF DUNE outline again.  I’d had about a month to clear my head, so I could approach the story fresh.  Brian made copious notes about his changes and other ideas he added.  I worked on it, talked with Brian on the phone, then worked on it more. I expanded the outline to 96 chapters, but then went back with a more ruthless mindset to see what could be combined. Why use two chapters if the same story-needs can be delivered in one chapter?  As of this afternoon, as I finished this draft of an outline that is near final (though still subject to more rounds of changes—and even more when we do the actual writing).  85 chapters so far.

Now it goes back to Brian. We’re getting close, and we hope to start writing by the first of the year.  No idea when it will be scheduled for publication.

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