Four Roads Cross by Max Gladstone
Today I’m excited to welcome Max Gladstone back to the blog to discuss the latest book in the Craft Sequence, Four Roads Cross, out now!
How do you write after the curtain falls?
The heroes succeed: the Death Star’s blown up, the Emperor’s slain, the bright new day dawns! The curtain falls, the credits roll, music swells, and we’re thrust out into the glaring light of day before we can ask, wait, what happens next?
A successful ending almost prohibits the writer from continuing. The ending is the conceit, as Film Crit Hulk likes to say: the ending displays the story’s emotional logic, and tells us how this particular narrative universe, with this particular bunch of people, will function, forever. Whatever hard work the resolution requires, we assume that core narrative will endure.
Return of the Jedi, for example, ends with disparate characters, human and non-, from all walks of life, assembling to support the Rebel Alliance to (spoiler alert) victory over the Galactic Empire. In that goofy helmet-xylophone afterparty, in the special edition fireworks on a hundred worlds, we see what this series has been all along: an affirmation that diverse beings can form bonds of trust, resisting self-interest (“more wealth than you can imagine”) and cold-equations political realism (“Luke, you’ve switched off your targeting computer!”). The Force, victorious, really does tie the galaxy together, connecting all forms of life.
For all our jokes about Death Star debris and the ensuing Endorian firestorm, we know what actually happens after Jedi: iterations of this story, as the galaxy rises from the ashes of Empire. And, of course, The Force Awakens continues this script, though it shows a darker cycle, shaped by that idealism’s confrontation with a dark and troubling world. We’re initially kicked out of equilibrium: Luke is gone! What? We thought Luke would be here forever. The Empire resurgent? But literally in the first five minutes, we’re watching a princess (Poe Dameron is a princess, dammit) hiding secret plans within a droid that bears the same relationship to R2D2 as my iPhone does to my (roughly A New Hope vintage) Apple II+. And slowly the diverse cast of strangers comes together against evil, and we’re back.
It didn’t need to be that explicit, of course. Any story would do, any challenge—so long as it resolves with people coming together to drag one another toward the light.
But when I sat down to write Four Roads Cross, I couldn’t just write another cycle. I was walking in the footsteps of a story about walking away—a story in which characters reject the logic of the story that surrounds them.
Three Parts Dead, my first novel, ended with Tara Abernathy’s decision to leave the big firm Craftwork environment she was trained for and step in-house at the Church of Kos. Tara doesn’t worship any god; she’s been trained not to invest in any particular community, but to travel around working necromancy. She and her new friends in Alt Coulumb came together to solve a mystery and save the city, and during that process Tara realized that she disagreed with her field’s tendency to treat people as things, and communities as objects of study and intervention, rather than ends in themselves. Tara wanted to invest in a place, rather than winging away to new victories, leaving wreckage behind her.
When I set out to write Four Roads Cross, I started writing a story that worked on the same logic as Three Parts Dead—but that experiment kept running into snags. Tara ended Three Parts Dead by following a new road—and Four Roads Cross had to investigate that road, rather than retreading Three Parts Dead. I started again, and focused on Tara’s experience of her new surroundings, her attempts to grow beyond herself and mesh with a new community. The entire city of Alt Coulumb, I realized, was reeling after the events of Three Parts Dead, trying to synthesize new ideas and customs without coming apart at the seams.
Through that process, I grew to know Alt Coulumb better. I revisited old friends, and saw them following their own new paths—which in turn suggested an entirely new cast of characters, struggling with new issues. The story took on a life of its own. It was bigger than a sequel; it became the next adventure, rather than just ‘the continuing adventures of.’ And I found myself having more fun than I believed possible—I still feel a bit guilty about how much I enjoyed writing this book! In short, the story took on a life of its own, springing from Three Parts Dead rather than reiterating upon it.
The falling curtain wasn’t a problem at all. I just had to remember that, as one curtain falls, another rises.
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