I’m thrilled that people are digging HEX-RATED, the first novel in the Brimstone Files series I’m writing for Night Shade Books. But the whole reason for the Gutters to exist is to crash your idea about overnight success and smack the myth that we can all be living off our writing (and that such things are awesome). So a little data to make things clear:
Before Hex-Rated, I’d written fourteen novels.
This doesn’t include two abandoned novellas (sword and sorcery and romance stuff that just didn’t gel), or comic book projects, let alone short stories. I wrote fourteen novels before I sold HEX-RATED.
All of them genius.
(CUE LAUGH TRACK)
Some of them are great. Some are fun. One is darkly personal and I can’t even get Bizarro publishers to touch it!
But, let me tell you about the first three novels I wrote. Not published, of course, but finished.
JABS -3 to ZERO
First one, CHAINS OF BONE (2000), was a horror novel about a Latvian werewolf sworn to keep promises. Did I mention there were Latvian werewolves? It was written because I hated how Guy Gavriel Kay employed the technique of people ‘bound’ to promises in an otherwise great novel, TIGANA. It was also written when I thought being a horror writer like Brian Keene was feasible. The difference is Brian wrote a great zombie novel called THE RISING. I wrote a meandering piece of violence and exposition.
Which means CHAINS OF BONE sucked. Sure, some dialog was funny, I had a soft spot for the characters and their plights. But I had no real clue what I was doing. I had not studied how plot worked beyond “stuff happens.” The first draft was so shitty I had to abandon it and reconstruct it from the top because even I knew the plot made less sense than El Topo on acid. The second version was better, but that’s like saying I got a good polish on a turd. It has never been read and is lying in a friend’s basement as a legit “trunk” novel.
Then there was HARD TIMES FOR A GOOD THIEF (2003). This is my “I love Joe Lansdale and Garth Ennis” novel. It’s got a cool premise: a dude suffering from a near-magical form of kleptomania gets involved in a caper that makes him “bound” (god I’m predictable) to twin Colt revolvers possessed by the ghost of Billy the Kid. Beyond my wildest dreams it was liked by a few agents, but they could all smell the beginner ticks and twitches. Still love the idea and characters but the plot might be called “Jay Learns about Quests!” Not a bad work, especially after the clusterturd of CHAINS OF BONE.
Before my PhD program I quickly scrambled to finish THE SUMMER APPRENTICE (2003), a YA novel that I would eventually re-write from the bottom up because I loved the characters: fat bully learns the arcane from a World War II wizard. That version got me an agent. The first one . . . taught me that I love exposition too damn much. But this first stab had no depth, but it was very character-oriented rather than “cool shit” oriented (rather than the pure-shit oriented that is CHAINS OF BONE . . . whose original title was, for no reason, TRINITY OF MIRRORS).
About 300K words total before I got “serious” about novels in 2009 when I finished my PhD. I followed in the age old tradition of learning to write by writing bad and trying to get better. Self-publishing was a largely a joke and filled with scam artists (how times have changed!). But all the writing advice I’d read suggested that’s what it took. Could you grind out your beginner novels? Could you learn-by-doing? Could you recognize your first drafts as shit and keep on going to make them better?
So, yes, they were awful, but I could also see I was getting better because of the feedback I got and my own growing editorial sense (beware professionals who believe you should only listen to expert advice. Learn to create what Hemingway called your own built-in “bullshit detector” for your own work).
So, before I took novels seriously, I spent two years writing novels. I’d read some good stuff on plotting from David Morrell, and the usual of suspects for genre beginners like Nancy Kress and Orson Scott Card. But as Napoleon said, it’s all in the execution: I learned to write by WRITING.
And it was garbage, but my garbage! Just like my fave seen in Charlotte’s Web, where Wilbur and Templeton feast on the carnival trash, I feasted on my own awfulness in order to find the treasures.
In short, it wasn’t agony. It was fun. My punk rock attitude said “yeah, this stuff stinks up the joint, but it was a blast to get it down on paper! Let the next one stink less!” Ever work a day of labor in the burning sun? Way worse than an hour of the day playing make-belief. Making that work awesome, though, took a work ethic that would almost destroy my love of writing.
Stay tuned, Happy Campers! Stay Tuned!
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