• Finishing things

    You know what? Finishing things is hard. I don’t want to undersell quite how difficult it is: for every project that finds its way to completion—no matter how imperfect—there are dozens, if not hundreds, that lie discarded along the way: some half-built, other nearly constructed but clearly faulty, still more that never really get out of the idea stage.

    Despite saying as early as first grade that I wanted to be a writer, I didn’t finish a novel until I was 24. In the years up to that, I’d started countless stories, all of which usually petered out a few thousand words in. (One particularly valorous attempt, while I was studying abroad in Scotland and suffering from extreme homesickness reached maybe ten or twenty thousand words or so before it made its way to the dustbin.) But up until that first book I finished, I never quite had the discipline to make myself finish a story.

    This comes to mind because this morning I finished the first draft of a book I’ve been working on for a couple years now. It’s been on and off at times, and I’ve tossed incomplete drafts and started over, then later gone back and reintegrated the material that I cut, and so on and so forth. And though this is the sixth novel that I’ve written to completion1, it’s the first new book that I’ve finished since 2012.2 Because it doesn’t really get any easier.

    Years ago, I read an essay of Neil Gaiman’s, in which he related something he was told by legendary author Gene Wolfe:

    “You never learn how to write a novel,” he said. “You just learn how to write the novel that you’re writing.”

    Damn if that hasn’t stuck with me for the past decade or so.3 Sure, you learn and get better at the craft of writing as you go, but every novel is a different process. Just like the more you cook, the better you’ll probably get at the craft of cooking, but making a new dish is always going to be a bit of a learning experience.

    There’s a lot of work left to do on this particular book before it’s ready for anybody else’s eyes, but I’m pretty bullish on it. (Good thing, too! Who wants to finish a book and not like it?) In large part that’s because it’s different from anything else I’ve really put my hand to before and, having come off writing a couple books set in the same world, it was nice to be able to shift gears and prove that I’ve got more than one idea. Hopefully more than one good idea, even, though that remains to be seen.

    So: the new book currently weighs in at 92,000-plus words and is tentatively titled All Souls Lost. I’m looking forward to sharing it with all of you—well, when it’s finished for real, anyway.

    1. I mean that in the sense of just getting the whole story down on the page—there’s always more editing and rewriting to be done.

    2. And that book isn’t “done” in the sense that it’s currently with my beta readers, after which it has to go to my agent, who will probably have some thoughts, and so on.

    3. I’m not sure precisely when I read it, and Gaiman’s site doesn’t have a date for it, so that’s just a guess.

  • The Road to Published

    Yep, it’s true: I sold a book!

    Well, more specifically, my fantastic agents over at JABberwocky, Joshua Bilmes and Sam Morgan, sold my first novel to Talos Press, an imprint of Skyhorse Publishing. That book, which is now titled The Caledonian Gambit, began life several years ago (the earliest chapter in my Scrivener file dates from March 7, 2009) and was originally titled Resurrection Men.1 The characters and plot date back even further, to an idea I started cooking up during my senior year of college, but it took me a while to actually turn it into a whole book.

    Clearly it was a long road to get to this point, but as I was reminded recently while doing some cleaning in my office, that journey goes back even further. While flipping through a folder of old letters, I stumbled across this:

    Book rejection

    Yep, that’s a form rejection from my now agent Joshua, dated October 2005, ten years prior to JABberwocky signing me as a client. The submitted novel was the first one I’d finished, a post-apocalyptic fantasy called The High Road.2 It wasn’t the only rejection for that book, so I figured maybe it was time to set that aside and work on something totally new.

    It took me a few years after that to get started on the next project; I wrote a few aborted NaNoWriMo novels during that time, but I was mainly busy starting a new career as a professional tech journalist. I couldn’t stay away from fiction forever, though, so I started in on the then-titled Resurrection Men in 2009, and wrapped up my first draft sometime around July 2010. Thus began the even longer, even more arduous process of trying to turn that manuscript into something resembling a publishable novel.

    I first met Joshua at Boskone in February 2012, thanks to an introduction from another of his clients, unstoppable author machine Myke Cole. I spent the next three-and-a-half years going back and forth on various drafts with Joshua and Sam until we got to the point where they felt the book was ready for them to sell.3

    Which was a nice milestone, but hardly the end of the process. From there it was another several months before we got an offer from the folks at Talos/Skyhorse, and it will be a while yet before the book actually makes it onto shelves, and into your hands.

    All of which is a long-winded way of saying that if I’ve learned anything from this whole experience, it’s that persistence is the better part of success. It’s easy to get disheartened in this business, but what they say is true: Finish what you start. Be willing to keep going back to the drawing board, no matter how much it hurts. None of that’s a guarantee of success, but the one thing that is 100-percent certain is if you don’t finish that book, if you don’t set aside the rejections and keep sending it out, and if you don’t work on making it the best damn book it can be, then that road to getting published is just a dead end.

    1. A few folks read it under this title, but spoiler: that term no longer exists in the book.

    2. It should probably never see the light of day, though I do have a soft spot for it. And its sequel, *The Road West*. And the half-finished conclusion to that trilogy, *The End of the Road*. See? You write a lot of crap on the way to a salable book.

    3. During which I, among other life changes, got laid off from my tech journalism job and started the very scary reality of working as a freelancer.