The Point at Which Every Author Needs Help


A few days ago I made mention of the Pelted Historical Society and the portraits I was doing for its members as a thank-you for their assistance. It’s been a while since I’ve talked about the Historical Society, so this feels like a good opportunity.

There are, at present, 27 books in the Peltedverse setting (not counting the one I just finished and have not yet published), and some number of short stories I haven’t enumerated and have failed to collect into books. I did a rough count and it comes to about 9300 pages. In addition to the published fiction, there are two pieces of published nonfiction (the Summaries and the Guidebook), all my notes in various notebooks and sketchbooks and files on computers stretching for more than 25 years, and the new vignettes and partially written pieces that are sitting on my hard drive, waiting their turn in the queue for completion. I also have the older pieces waiting to be rewritten so they can be added to the published canon… Zafiil alone would add another 1026 pages to the total.

I’d like to say that if I’d been a smart author I would have planned from the beginning for the sprawl of my main setting, particularly since as an ambitious teen I was absolutely planning to turn the Peltedverse into a creative empire. But Young Me was born at a time when you took notes on paper, and then later, if you were well off, saved them on enormous floppy discs… and then on harder floppy discs, and then on CD-ROM drives, and all in a succession of different programs that became obsolete and unreadable as technology marched on. There are media in my closet that I’d have to send to a specialized service to be read (I’m looking at you, Syquest cartridge, among others), and getting that DVD back wouldn’t guarantee I’d be able to read the resultant files because the programs used to make them are long gone.

Younger Jaguar strived diligently throughout the years, but there’s no helping it if the database you made on your Apple IIe in the 80s reads as gibberish in 2020.

Granted that, I have to deal with what I’ve got after the fact. The horses have left the barn, and there were so many of them I was lucky to get a rough notion of their numbers before they escaped and started breeding in obscure corners of the property. And maybe if the Peltedverse had been a tidy little universe set in a single town, with only a handful of people in it, I might have been able to get my arms around it… but its cast list is in the hundreds (conservatively), the timeline covers multiple planets and nations, and I like detail so in addition to basic information like people’s eye color I’ve also made up chains of stores, cuisines local to tiny parts of separate planets, products as specific as holographic riding horses and series of fake books by multiple authors, languages with minor dialects, movie stars, cocktails, and fancy resorts.

Now, there might be, in this human populace, someone with a memory prodigious enough to keep all this stuff straight in their heads. I am not that person: I am lucky to remember my own birthday, or what I just ate. In the past, my method for maintaining the continuity of the setting was… are you ready… to read every single Peltedverse book prior to writing the next. Which worked great as a method when there were three, or five, or ten Peltedverse books, because I read quickly. But I am standing on the precipice of Book 28, with another four waiting right behind it and about a dozen more behind them, and even if I could fit in an entire re-read before writing a new book there are now so many books that I begin to forget the details of Book 2 when I’m on Book 16. It’s just too big a job for any one person. Or even any two or three. Certainly it’s too large a job for this Jaguar. But I don’t think I’m unusual in this regard, because I’m not the first author I’ve heard of who’s started relying on their readers for help… and for every series writer who visibly thanks the readers who’ve helped them with continuity, I bet there are ten who are relying on those readers without advertising it.

The Pelted Historical Society, then, grew out of my need for that help, and as the canon grows, so have the Society’s endeavors. It started with timeline sanitizing, and while that’s still ongoing, it’s also grown a dramatis personae arm. There are now Society members who specialize in answering my ad hoc questions (“Did I mention this at any point?” “You did, yes, I just read that part in this book.”)… and Society members whose expertise lies in asking me questions. (“You implied this in previous books… is this an error or are you adding complexity?”) No one reader has all the answers, but the group is stronger than any one individual, and even a person adding one or two notes to the database is making an enormous difference to the whole effort.

I feel like this bears repeating: for myself, because I hadn’t realized it until this moment, but for everyone else too. At some point, an author can no longer get by on their brain alone, or on the services of only an editor, and maybe a proofreader. There’s a reason authors of long-running series or settings have such active reader communities. There might be a few authors out there so meticulous and well-organized that they have all the data they need in a series bible they’ve been maintaining—and updating—since they’ve begun, but with rare exception I’m betting the overwhelm gets to us all… if not on Book 28, then on Book 50.

That’s why I like drawing portraits of my Historical Society members, and why I had a sticker made for them (which I can’t wait to send them), and why I’m always brainstorming new ways to thank them. (Look for the newest one in my forthcoming novel!) As the Peltedverse expands, they will continue to become more important to the quality of the fiction that reaches retailers, and I think they should be justly proud of it. I know I couldn’t do it without them, and I’m grateful for the help.

Anyone can join the Society! The timeline and cast databases are Google docs that are group-edited; the ‘asking me questions’ function is mostly done by first readers perusing novel drafts, and the ‘me asking questions’ usually happens on Discord. But no one should feel limited by pre-existing efforts. If you’re really into genealogy and want to generate family trees for all the Eldritch as your personal project, I’m not going to say no. Ditto if you decide it would be interesting to track all the ships in Fleet I’ve mentioned so far. Someone who is fascinated by all the landmarks, locations, or fancy restaurants and wants to jot them all down is welcome to do so (and to ask their friends to help them). I have people updating the vocabulary lists for various languages as I mention words in those languages in the text, and people writing down every food I’ve mentioned in any Pelted story (because they want to make some of it!). All of that is cool by me. Just let me know, and I’ll give you access, or point you at people who might be interested in helping.

Does this mean the canon will be completely error-free? Absolutely not. But will it be more consistent than it would be otherwise? That would be an unqualified yes.

If you’re currently helping with the Society, make sure you add yourself to the portrait request document! I’ll sketch you on one of my streams. And thank you all. You’re the best readers.

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