Every now and again, Pandora’s selection algorithm gives perfect voice to the screaming inside my head. It’s rare, but much like an alien abduction during a solar eclipse, it can and does happen. I suppose it’s only appropriate that it happened today of all days.
I’ve been stewing about today for months. Ever since I got word from Angry Robot that my debut novel would hit the (North American) streets on this date, it has been fixed in my mind as a Rubicon of authorly fate. Once today rolled around, everything would be different. My life as an unpublished novelist would be over. Now that today is here, I can go into a bookstore, point to Chris McGrath’s cover art, and claim the words behind it as mine. People might even pay money to read those words, and some of that money might find its way to me. Citizens of the United States or Canada can pick up that book and read it. Those words–my words–may have an impact on them, whether that impact be amusement, sadness, anger, distaste, fear, or just plain entertainment. Not everyone will like it. Not everyone has. Some people will love it. My novel’s exposure is now only limited by language barrier; anyone who can read English may come across it, read it, and form an opinion.
I’m not really sure how I feel about that.
Prevalent wisdom says fuck that noise. I should just write what I want to write, and to hell with what anyone else thinks. To a large extent, I’ve already done that. Weird Westerns aren’t exactly a guaranteed hit, but they’re what I wanted to write. I don’t regret a single moment spent writing The Dead of Winter or She Returns From War. Sure, they aren’t perfect, but I’m damn proud of them. That feeling of accomplishment, of having reached a milestone in life that few attain, is impervious; nothing anyone says can mar that. No matter what else happens in my life, no matter where I find myself doing, no matter how much I hate it, I still got a fucking book published.
On the other hand, I got a fucking book published. That means that anyone at all can judge its merits using whatever standard they see fit. They are free to loathe everything I’ve accomplished and possibly my existence for bringing my books into the world in the first place. That kind of exposure leaves me feeling, well, exposed. I’ve lived on the Internet long enough to understand the tendency of people to be shitheads, but now I’m a possible target for that shitheadery. Despite my cool affectation, I’m as human as anybody else. If my books receive overwhelmingly negative responses, I’m not sure how that will impact me. That uncertainty lends a good deal of apprehension to today’s celebratory mood. Then again, so did the giant wolf spider that watched me shower this morning.
All that to say, I found it extremely appropriate that Pandora chose to open my work day with Nightwish’s Ghost Love Score followed by The Black Mages performing Seymour’s fight theme. The two songs played back-to-back made for a nice auditory expression of the various emotions vying for control of my thoughts.
If you’re interested in contributing to my visceral maelstrom, you may do so by picking up a copy of The Dead of Winter straight from the source and passing your own judgment.
Many things have happened this month. The sheer volume of things defies comprehension, making rude gestures and crude noises at it from the safety of diplomatic immunity. Not all of these things were related to publishing stuff, but enough were that I can justify making a post about them.
First off, I’m working through my lineup of guest posts and interviews for various blogs leading up to my launch date. The first of these is an guest post over at The Qwillery which goes live tomorrow and features a brief discussion on Weird West. They will also play host to an interview on launch day (October 30th aka HOLY SHIT FOUR POINT FIVE WEEKS AWAY). I’ll also be doing interviews with My Bookish Ways and Civilian Reader and more guest blogs at Falcata Times and Book Chick City. A busy lineup for someone who can’t manage to update his own blog with any consistency, but I’m thrilled at the opportunity to be featured on so many fantastic sites.
Next comes the long-awaited arrival of my ARC of The Dead of Winter. The excitement with which I anticipated its coming temporarily rewired my practicality protocols, demanding that I actually do UPS’s job for them and pick it up at the hub instead of waiting for them to fail at delivering it two more times. Opened in the car forthwith, the ARC quickly made its way home with us.
A very large part of me wanted to enshrine it behind glass, never to suffer the passing of time and the hazards of this cruel world. It must stay pristine, trapped in time, kept in this perfect material realization. I imagine new parents feel something similar upon receipt of a child, at least until the thing opts to void its innards all over the couch for the seventh time in a week. Fortunately, I will have no such issues with the lovely item I received. However, much like a child, I could not protect it from the world forever. Before I knew it, the damned thing started following me to work.
Courtesy of the Robot Overlords, those residents of Great Britain and Ireland interested in the book may enter to win a copy of this very same ARC over at Goodreads.
While I was thus engaged in dealing with one unruly offspring, my second-born chose that same week to remind me that it still has some gestating to do. Time split yet again as I began working on the requested revisions while proofing The Dead of Winter and getting a jump on my guests posts. Fortunately, the overall household stress maintained a more-or-less even keel, as Tori successfully defended her gargantuan research project the Friday before my children began squalling for attention.
Lastly, with the arrival of the ARC, my launch party planning has begun. Hosted by the wonderful Old Firehouse Books, the joyous occasion will take place at 6:00 PM on October 30 (OHMYGODTHATISINTHIRTYTHREEDAYS) and will feature a reading, a signing, and a cake. If you don’t come, I can’t promise that I will save you a piece of cake; I expect any leftovers will be voraciously devoured by my postpartum blues. We might be able to work out getting you a signed copy of the book as a consolation prize, though.
So yeah, September has been busy and exciting. It is also the vanguard of the next six months, which will see Tori graduated with her Master’s degree, two of my books published, all of the usual holiday cheer, and possibly the completion of a third manuscript. Oh, and also possibly moving. And I am shit at defending against Zerg rushes.
Note: this is the first in what will probably become a series. I recently picked up Fallout: New Vegas and found myself thoroughly enjoying the post-nuclear Western vibe. Acting upon the overwhelming impulse, I created a character resembling my vision of Cora Oglesby in such a world. What follows is a chronicle of her adventures through New Vegas. Yes, I am writing my own crossover fan fiction.
I ain’t got no clear memory of what happened. Best I can figure, some feller gave me a right smart smack when I wasn’t looking. Woke up feeling fit to split like a melon that’s been left in the sun too long. Pudding-headed though I was, I thought I heard voices coming from somewhere close, so I looked around a bit. Sure enough, some city feller and a pair of roughnecks was looking me over like I was a second place hog at the county fair. Before I could so much as open my mouth, the feller in the suit made his business clear.
Way I see it, that should’ve been my ticket to the hereafter, but it wasn’t. Somehow, I held on long enough for some other folk to pull me right back out of my grave. Came to for the second time with a different feller looking at me. This one said he was the doctor who’d patched me up. Even gave me some sort of fancy mirror to make sure everything was where it should be. Never been much of a looker, mind you, but the doc patched me up so’s a body couldn’t even tell I’d taken a bullet between my teeth.
Doc asked me a few questions to make sure my brains wasn’t scrambled or nothing. Turns out my thinker wasn’t no worse for the trip to the boneyard, so he gave me back my gun and a funny-looking outfit besides. Ain’t never been much for looking fancy, but can’t say I was fit for a ball in that getup, neither.
Having done what he could, Doc sent me on my way. Said he didn’t have no idea who that fancy feller was who shot me, but told me to ask around town. Maybe some of the other locals had a notion, he said. Didn’t have no idea where Ben was, neither. Guess I was alone when they found me. Still, he had a point, so I made for the nearest saloon. Happened to be the only saloon in town, meaning it was where all the locals wet their whistles. I had me a powerful thirst of my own that needed tending to. Seems dying does that to a body.
I wasn’t inside more than two ticks when this big old bear of a dog jumped up and started making himself known. My hand was already on my gun before some young sprout grabbed the mutt by the scruff and yelled at it to simmer down. Introduced herself as Sunny Smiles. Right funny name if you ask me. Still, she had herself a fine-looking rifle across her back and seemed to know her way around that dog of hers, so I reckoned she couldn’t have been all bad. Sure enough, I introduced myself and we got along just fine. Turns out little miss Sunny needed some help with local critters, salamanders or some such. I told her I was a fair shot with a rifle, so off we went into the desert for a spot of game hunting.
We shot up enough lizards to make the rest tuck tail and get. Sunny Smiles got this big old smile on her face then, saying that the town’s water supply was safe again. We both helped ourselves to a few sips before heading back into town. Sunny didn’t say much on the way, which left me to wondering where that damn fool husband of mine had got himself to. Nowhere good was my guess. Couldn’t rightly make up my mind on what I ought to do first, find his sorry behind or get on the trail of them as tried to kill me.
Before I could puzzle it out, we was back at the saloon. A drop or two of rotgut would set my thinking straight, I reckoned. Could almost taste that fire in the back of my throat. Problem was, when I made my way over to the bar, the lady bartender had herself a whole other mess of trouble that had nothing to do with a thirsty customer.
To be continued…
In high school, I always thought one of the best parts about being in a band would be getting to write the “Thanks to” sections for each album. It was a chance for the band members to give shouts out to friends, family, and colleagues. I loved reading them because it made the musicians I so admired seem more human. They would also drop inside jokes I didn’t get but still laughed at because people in bands are cool.
Book acknowledgements and dedications are similar. A short list of people who helped make the book happen plus an personal italicized message. Just give shouts out to your friends and family, maybe name drop a few, be funny. Work up a sweet nothing if you (like me) are dedicating the book to a significant other. When you’re done, pour yourself a glass of something, lean back, and cogitate. Like train etiquette, it seems like super simple stuff.
At least not for me. I’m sure other authors have a much easier time of things like that. And, to be honest, the acknowledgements didn’t take me all that long. I had a good idea of who I wanted to include by name, and I kept it short so as not to bore the few that might read it. One or two inside jokes for good measure, and I’m done.
The dedication, on the other hand, was a monster. I spent a full month trying to come up with something absolutely fantastic, something beautiful and stirring, something that might approach the level of meaning I wanted to infuse into the few words I was permitted. Something perfect. Having written poetry long before trying my hand at prose, I am familiar with obsessing over word placement. Yes, fiction writers do it, too, but as someone who has successfully composed both, I can say the process is different. My poetry subscribes to the “economy of words” philosophy; I don’t blather on in my stanzas, preferring to keep them tightly-focused and potent. With that sort of background, one might think I’d be well-equipped to tackle something like a novel dedication.
Well, one would be wrong. I spent more time trying to come up with a single line than I spent drafting the synopsis of She Returns From War. You only get to dedicate a first novel once, after all, and I wanted it to be perfect. However, after spending many weeks working and reworking various ideas in my head, I finally had to go with something I fear falls short of that goal. Really, though, how do you sum up the entirety of a loved one’s undying belief and support in a single line? If there exists such a level of writing prowess, I have not attained it. So, much like the larger work of the novel, the single line of dedication is something that may never reach the divine ideal hoped for at the outset.
It somehow feels like a greater failing, though. Sure, nobody can ever write the perfect a novel. It’s big, it’s complex, it has all of those stupid words in it. A beast of many backs that can never truly be domesticated. A dedication, on the other hand, is just one line. One. Line. If you can’t perfect that, perhaps you should give up the whole writing gig altogether. So say the whispers of insecurity, and who’s to say they’re wrong?
Anyway, the deadline for the dedication came upon me last week, so I went with something I hope serves as a portal into the universe of gratitude I feel. It’s something of an inside joke, but it isn’t the kind that makes every other person return their breakfast to the earth via the most direct means possible. I’m not perfectly happy with it because it isn’t perfect. In fact, I’m more apprehensive about how Tori will like it than I am about how book critics will view the novel itself. Perhaps my priorities are askew. Then again, it’s highly unlikely I’d have ever written the book I did without her support.
A friend of mine told me that this post had to be epic. No reason was given. I am accustomed to following arbitrary directives from my friends, however, so I began speculating how I might bring such epicness to bear. The speculation ended rather quickly with the realization that all of the hard work had already been done for me by the mighty Chris McGrath:
I confess to complete and utter ignorance in the realm of cover art. Never having been particularly proficient at visual art, I didn’t study it much (only taking one class in high school). The massive, dynamic world of cover artists went subconsciously heeded at best except for the occasional gripe at an inconsistency. When I finished my first draft of The Dead of Winter, I slapped a picture of a moon over a snowy forest on the front page when I sent it out to friends for beta reading. I spent literally minutes combing through Google images for a
perfect decent picture of wintry doom to accompany my manuscript. Little did I know that the perfect cover could only be had by signing on with a wrathful publisher and letting them bring in a AAA-caliber artist to breathe spirit and soul into the characters.
I say “spirit and soul” rather than “life” because Chris McGrath did more than fashion physical forms for characters that (in my mind) were visually nebulous. When the Robot Overlords asked for physical descriptions, I was able to trot them out in short order, but I didn’t envision them in my head. I never had, really. When I write, my characters are words and thoughts and actions and reactions. They interact, they murder, they weep, and they laugh. They do all this in my virtual headspace, mostly divorced from the physical forms they take therein. They are spirits, flitting briefly into the physical plane before returning to the great ether.
In creating these covers, Chris McGrath captured those ethereal essences in a way I could never have imagined. When I first saw the proofs, my sense of wonder and excitement was augmented by something else, something almost eerie. For the first time since I brought them into the world, I was actually seeing Cora and Benjamin Oglesby. The ferocious determination sparking in Cora’s eyes, the way Ben cradles the book in his arm, the overpowering threat of coldness and death surrounding them…it was all perfect. I don’t know if Chris read the manuscript prior to completing the work or not (he says it varies from job to job). If he didn’t, I recommend the skeptics of the world start testing him for psychic powers. I can’t fathom how he so precisely captured my characters based solely on third-party description.
Then again, he’s just that good. Both proofs arrived in March, at which point only a handful of people–a subset excluding the Robot Overlords themselves–had read She Returns From War. In January, Marc asked for scenes from the book that might make for a good cover. I sent him a few possibilities (at least one of which I hadn’t written yet), frustrated by my own inability to adequately describe them. Chris somehow transformed those lackluster outlines into a singularly haunting image that captures the essence of the story in a way I myself hadn’t yet realized. If having my characters stare back at me from The Dead of Winter’s cover was eerie, seeing the art for a book I had only just finished drafting was downright unsettling.
So here’s to you, Chris McGrath. Thank you for capturing the essence of Cora Oglesby with such grace, precision, and beauty. You probably hear such sentiments a lot in your line of work; I hope the repetition fully reinforces the belief that you do damn fine work. If ever our paths should cross, dinner’s on me.
The obsessively-devoted fans among you may have noticed that I tweeted something Tuesday about having finished my final read-through of She Returns From War prior to submitting it to the Robot Overlords. Today is the day that submission takes place, and I have a whole mess of thoughts about it. Since you stopped by, I suppose I should tell you that I’ve embedded a virus into this post which locks out all browser functions except page scrolling for ten minutes. That should be enough time for you to read and contemplate my earth-shattering reflections on the writing process for my second book. Ten minutes also happens to be exactly how long it takes Dr. Mario to divine the cure for the virus.
First of all, I want to acknowledge and thank all of the wonderful, insightful, and necessarily harsh beta readers that helped me get a bead on the revision process: AA confederates Wes Chu, Laura Lam, Mike Johnson, and Rob Haines; family and friends Mel, Nancy G, and Bill; and my Ideal Reader, the beautiful Tori. Without their selfless commitment, tireless line editing, and shrewd suggestions, I would have been stuck carving a metaphorical monument in the desert without anyone standing at a distance shouting, “Dude! Noses do not look like that!” Then, when my bulbous, misshapen monstrosity was subjected to the world’s scorn, I totes would have rage quit on the spot.
The experience was not without instructional value, either. Given that I have only one other episode of novel composition and revision under my belt, my sample size is nowhere near large enough to generalize these findings. However, you should still have about eight minutes left on that browser lockdown, so here we go:
1. Taking a break doesn’t result in the subatomic destabilization of the universe – When I first decided to put the manuscript down for (what ended up being) a month, the idea terrified me. It flew in the face of my own dichotomous work ethic and the advice of every writer who has pontificated on the subject of dedication. However, as it turns out, not much happened. Not only did I not miss my deadline, but none of my beta readers even noticed the seam where I abandoned the narrative in favor of vicariously slaughtering eldritch horrors and gangs of roving marauders in Skyrim. A word of warning, though: this only works if you’ve made good headway and still have some room to breathe. I wouldn’t suggest it to anyone who is brushing up against a deadline.
2. Revisions come in many forms – Stephen King advises writers to cut out 10% of their first drafts. I know writers who completely restructured their books during the revision process. Thus, when my final version trimmed a scant 1.5% off the word count and featured no major plot alterations, I found myself beset by an angry, flapping horde of doubt moths. They inconsiderately flitted about my ears, their wings whispering that I had not done enough. Horrible, dust-covered bodies rubbed against the open wounds of my insecurities. I fought them to a stalemate with my final read-through, however; while not perfect, I’m happy with how the manuscript turned out. Very happy, as a matter of fact. I’ve yet to see what the Overlords think of it, but it seems that the amount of revision isn’t directly proportional to the quality of the manuscript in all cases.
3. Finishing a contracted novel feels very different from finishing a casual novel – This one surprised me. When I finished The Dead of Winter, I felt a great sense of accomplishment. A milestone had been reached, a Rubicon had been crossed, a baby had been fired out of a cannon, etc etc. One more life goal to check off. Finishing She Returns From War, however, brought a new and unexpected sensation: immense relief. Yes, I still felt the heady rush of “Holy shit, I just finished writing a book”, but there came attached a gigantic helping of “Thank God I didn’t fuck up.” I can actually relax and have hot, sweaty, guilt-free fun now. Or I could, but…
4. I no longer remember how to have fun – During both the writing and revision processes, my gaming was essentially limited to AFK mining in EVE , and my recreational reading only happened on the bus in to work. Since finishing my final read-through two days ago, I have spent my evenings engaged in the following “fun” activities: A) spending 60 minutes yelling profanities at the singularly hardest boss fight in Xenoblade Chronicles; B) napping; and C) making a spreadsheet in Open Office to make calculating production costs in EVE easier. I hope this affliction is temporary. If it isn’t, I suppose there’s nothing for it but to get to work on my next book.
The drill whined and squealed as it worked, sending fragments of my last hope flying through the glare of the overhead lamp. Blue eyes enlarged to terrifying proportions peered through the tiny binoculars the dentist wore clipped to his glasses. I could feel them boring into me like the drill, searching for the remaining pieces of protection still nestled in my teeth.
My father placed them there when I was young. They were bits of darkness to protect me from creatures of darkness, he said. Even as a child, that hadn’t made sense to me, and I’d told him so. He smiled his white, perfect smile then.
“Creatures of darkness will think you are one of them,” he’d said. “They won’t bother you because they won’t know that you really aren’t.”
Content with his explanation as only a child could be, I’d opened my mouth for him, and he’d set to work. The process hurt; my mouth bled for days afterward. Still, for all the pain, it worked. I no longer saw them lurking in the corners of the back yard at night, watching me with veiled eyes. Whatever my father had done, it had worked. I was safe.
“There we go,” the dentist said, a smile peeking around the edges of his surgical mask. “All set.”
I worked my jaw. Despite the Novocaine, I could still feel a dull ache–almost an itching–in my gums. A weak smile stretched my sore lips. “Thanks.”
He launched into his post-procedure speech then. I’d heard it several times by now, but he repeated it in earnest all the same. Running my tongue over the smooth new fillings, I pretended to listen. Behind me, the dentist’s assistant was collecting the silver instruments used in the destruction of my father’s gift to me. Part of me wanted to take the drill and set to work on her for what she’d done. My fingers curled into fists as I imagined my vengeance, but I forced them to relax. She had not known any better; for her, this was just a job to helppay for school or her kids or whatever.
No, the real object of my hatred sat before me, pointing nonchalantly at a computer diagram of my teeth. Little green circles glowed around each tooth now, proclaiming that all was well. I knew better, and so did he. I could see the silent laughter dancing in his eyes as he spoke. I was defenseless now, a juicy plum waiting to be plucked from the world of light by his associates.
“And that’s about it,” he said. “Julie will set you up for your next cleaning.” A wide, white smile, an extended hand. “Have a good rest of the day.”
Bastard, I thought. You know damn well that the rest of the day will be my last in this world. I couldn’t say it aloud, though. Exposing him for what he was in front of his innocent assistants would only anger him. His anger would become my agony when they came for me. Death would be too much to hope for.
I slid out of the chair, the leather squeaking beneath me. At the front desk, Julie smiled. “All set?”
“Will February 21 work for your next visit?”
I nodded again. It didn’t matter.
Outside, I squinted against the morning sun. Raising my hand against the glare, I turned and looked through the big front windows of the dentist’s office. He stood there, a smirk floating above his bleached lab coat, hand raised in farewell.