Trying to be a fiction writer is a lonely sort of quest. You are despised and shunned by normal folk with their dental insurance and their washer/dryer combos. Even among other writers there is frequently distrust, jealousy, and bad hair in addition to physical and social isolation.
Starbucks was closed.
When people hear that one is a fiction writer, they look at you differently, thinking, “Who is this presumptuous scribbler who claims to see inside the hearts of men?”
Who indeed? The fictioneers I know all are trying to say something about the human condition and our place (or lack thereof) in the universe. How could a person be more presumptuous than that? (Or, if they claim to say the definitive something, how could he or she be more pretentious?) Some writers, say, your Hemingway or your Joyce Carol Oates, give striking flesh to theories of how humans work but with little to no apparent understanding of how they themselves could function more happily as members of homo sapiens sapiens.
She’s just as warm in person.
In any case, no matter what kind of a fiction writer one might be, no matter how good or bad one’s actual prose is, one of the brass rings of the profession is getting the vote of confidence from a well-known publisher by the extension of a multi-book contract. It is not by any stretch of the imagination the only goal, or even the most important, of a novelist or short story writer—but it is a major one, something I personally have dreamed about since I first learned that there were such things, at the very start of my writing efforts when I was 10 years old, way back in 1979. That’s 35 years of scribbling and basing my self-worth mostly on the quality of the words I could put to paper.
I went through stages where I wanted to be a screenwriter, a newspaper reporter, a copy editor, a novelist, and in fact I have done each of these. But there has always been a mitigating factor: I did write screenplays, but none of the them were produced. I was a newspaper reporter, but for a weekly free paper. I was a copy editor, but a really crappy one. And I finished my first novel in 1993 and self-published my second in 2000. After that came self-publication in 2008, 2011, and 2013. Always a “kind of” added to whatever goal I thought I had achieved.
Distribution is often kind of a challenge, for instance.
This is not to say that self-publishing is somehow “not real.” I have made some money and gotten some notice for my books—not a lot, but certainly every dollar was appreciated and every positive review was gratifying as hell. I have dozens of friends who are making money and gaining fans hand over fist with their self-published works. It is a wonderful option for writers now, who can get their work read and appreciated all over the world.
But there was never that imprimatur of a publisher accepting the manuscript, paying an advance, and being as invested (or almost as much) as the author in the book’s success. I wanted that very much, and on the suggestion of a trusted book-reviewer friend who LOVED Deadtown Abbey, I sent it in to a major publisher of Apocalyptic books to see if maybe they possibly, you know, wanted to publish it.
Lo and behold, they did want to. A real publisher has contracted to put out Deadtown Abbey, meaning my book will be in real stores, meaning OMG. (Pardon my exuberance.)
In fact, they asked the question that every writer has ever wanted to hear from a publisher or agent: “What else do you have that we might like?”
An Aside Regarding “Works In Progress”
Every writer I have ever known has a pile—maybe not a physical one, or not even one in a computer file—of “books I’d write if I could write all the time.” When I was in high school and had, like, 50 aborted attempts at a novel (all of them dreadful), I still had that WIP file. (Since I used an IBM Selectric at that time before ubiquitous computers, it was a physical file.) This is why I was prepared to open the flood gates and just tell this publishers who had accepted Deadtown Abbey about all the works jostling for position of “the next book,” which is why I could give them a lot when they asked me for more.
So they asked me what else I had that they might like and I was able, within 24 hours, to give them a rundown on every zombie/eschatological work I had rolling around in my head. And it was quite a few because I have been on this huge Lovecraft kick for several years now, and my mind is frequently on death from the skies or from beneath the sea or other dimensions and such.
I sent them a big proposal package with information on all these books I wanted to write, and since publishers are extremely keen on series, together we were able to group them into such arrangements either tightly or loosely. These were the series—and one standalone zombie book—that I pitched to them:
1. The Reviva Las Vegas! series
This is a series about the Zombocalypse come to Sin City. Because I live in Las Vegas now, I’m able to not use Vegas as a glib kind of “Hey, pop culture!” kind of thing, but in fact to really set stories here. The first book, called Dead Man’s Hand, is based on a novella I wrote about a poker player doing the gambling circuit after the fall of civilization due to zombies. I just took the infestation and mass hysteria and all that as a backstory, and told the tale of Las Vegas, the last walled city in the world. The second book, called Pawn of the Dead, takes a step back and shows how some misfits on a reality TV show about their pawn shop accidentally unleash the Zombocalypse. The third book doesn’t have a title yet, but deals with either the end of humanity or the end of the zombies. I don’t want to say which, heh heh. The first is serious in tone, the second humorous, and the third back to serious.
2. The World War Cthulhu series
This is an entirely new project that takes Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos and presents it as unfolding in the present day, real world. What kind of thing could Cthulhu be? How would the world be affected by a creature that can cause insanity just by its very existence? What about R’lyeh and Dagon and Nyarlathotep and all that? The first book, The Fear, explores Cthulhu’s rise and the military attempt to destroy him. (Spoiler alert: There are more books in the series.) The second book, The Faith, examines the sweeping growth of the Cthulhu Cult, which offers strange immunities to the suffering caused by the Old One. The last book, The Fight, documents the last-ditch effort by humanity to rid itself of the being called Cthulhu and its fellow demons. All the books in this series will be delightfully grim.
3. The Apocalypse Wow series
The three books in this series lighter, pop-culture-y take on the end of the world are grouped thematically rather than because of any relation in their content. The first, Deadtown Abbey, is already written and was originally self-published by Yours Truly, of course. In case you don’t like fun and so haven’t read it already, Deadtown Abbey is the tale of an early-20th Century earl and his family, a setting much like that of a popular BBC television drama. But with vampires, werewolves, zombies, and Lovecraftian horrors. The second book in this series will be called How To Train Your Dagon, and will have to do with a fishing village’s attempts to fight off squamous and eldritch sea monsters who try to claim their town. (For the uninitiated, a “dagon” is, alternately, a fish god once worshipped by the Philistines or a fish-human hybrid that starts off human and gradually turns ichthyoid before returning to the sea to live forever.) The third book will be called Dark Acres and is a retelling of the Green Acres 1960s cult television show, but now with all of the most horrifying Lovecraftian elements you can even think of. It’s partially based on a screenplay I wrote, which tells the tale of a big-city lawyer and his Russian prostitute mail-order bride fleeing to the sticks under the witness protection program.
4. A standalone book, Exactly What Happened
I admit that I stole the title for this novel from a poetry collection by my former teacher, Joel Brouwer. The title may change as I work on the book, and certainly if Joel asked me to I would change it anyway. But since it isn’t due for delivery until the second half of 2016, I have a lot of time to think about and discuss it. For now, I call it Exactly What Happened and it is the story of the worldwide Zombocalypse, but told backwards á la Memento or the novel Ray In Reverse. (Or, perhaps more to the point, my Christmas zombie tale, “Brains Like Figgy Pudding.”)
So there you have it, ten novels under contract. The next three years of my life planned out for me. Scribble, scribble, scribble! Every day … scribble, scribble …
On the plus side, I’ll be able to take that sweet home office deduction.
Here’s the delivery schedule, which is when I need to have the manuscripts to my publisher:
|AW1: Deadtown Abbey||Done! YAY!|
|RLV1: Dead Man’s Hand||June 2014|
|WWC1: The Fear||October 2014|
|RLV2: Pawn of the Dead||December 2014|
|AW2: How To Train Your Dagon||February 2015|
|WWC2: The Faith||June 2015|
|RVL3: [Last book]||August 2015|
|AW3: Dark Acres||February 2016|
|WWC3: The Fight||June 2016|
|Exactly What Happened||October 2016|
Is the real life? Is this just fantasy? Can anybody other than Stephen King or his ilk produce this many books in this amount of time? I don’t know if anybody could, but I think I can, and here’s why: I am extremely good at working under a deadline, and EXTREMELY bad at working kinda you know sorta loosey goosey.
I wrote the original novella of Ain’t That America over Labor Day weekend in 1996 for the infamous “3-Day Novel Writing Contest” (which should in all fairness change its name to “The 3-Day Novel About Canada Writing Contest,” because it’s a Canadian publisher and they almost always name a Canuck the winner. But whatever. I’m not bitter. I don’t remember every single detail of what happened, don’t be silly.) I wrote Darwin’s Dreams under deadline as my Masters of Fine Arts in Fiction thesis. I wrote Deadtown Abbey in five weeks because I needed to have it done to sell at the Walker Stalker Convention in November 2013. I excel under deadlines, so this works for me.
Each book will be somewhere between 60,000 and 70,000 words, meaning that the whole World War Cthulhu epic would come in at roughly 200,000 words, a good size for a colossal tale of the Old Ones. Exactly What Happened might be closer to 50,000, but we shall see.
One final note before I go, and that is you might have noticed that I haven’t named who the publisher is. This is because although the contracts are ready and the books are accepted and advances and royalties have been negotiated and arranged, until I sign the contract I do NOT want to jinx myself. (I’m not superstitious—I’m just cautious. Ahem.) But soon I shall reveal all! MWA HA HA!
Next time: The economic realities of a 10-book contract
Your comments are, as always, incredibly welcome.