The We Sold A Trilogy Trilogy Part 3: The Wrath of Practicality

I keep hearing people say variations on this theme:

“You made it!”

“You worked so hard and now you did it!”

“Yay! You finally got there!”

I like these things. I like it when people congratulate me. We should celebrate! Eat that chocolate! Buy that Transformer! Fill a bathtub with premium Whole Foods brand peanut butter and sit in it while reciting Hamlet to a gummi bear. I mean, if that’s how you celebrate.

“You’ve made it” isn’t quite accurate, though. The publishing business is really fickle. As proof, I offer you the NY Times’ Notable Books of 1996, and your consequent, “Who?” Though Tor cut me a nice check, it wasn’t quit-your-day-job money. Lots of things could happen at this point. Kirkus could pan the book. PW could pan it. Barnes & Noble’s buyer might hate it. Iiiii… might be kept up at night by anxiety about these sorts of things. Ignore this part, actually. NOTHING TO SEE HERE CERTAINLY NOT ME CHEWING MY NAILS IN A CORNER MUTTERING “PLEASE LOVE ME”

Anyway… The first novel deal is less “full-time 401k and benefits” as “independent contractor wins a big bid.”

I’ve been producing a product for many years, and making a small amount of money off it. Now I’m making a larger profit, and hopefully going to be able to produce more, eventually reducing my other freelance commitments. So yes, that’s awesome. It’s nice that I sold something through traditional publishing channels, which gets around a lot of the work self-pubbers have to do.

But I haven’t made it. Independent contractor won a big bid. Here’s to many more.

Music Monday: Coldplay’s Last Album Before Their Tragic Disappearance

It’s a real shame that, after Viva La Vida, Coldplay, as one, decided to brave the bears, rabid reindeer and Vikings on a remote Norse fjord, and disappeared into the wilds.

I mean, Viva La Vida was a great album, and totally redeemed them from X&Y. It’s just such a shame that they haven’t done anything since. I mean, it’s possible that they would have just put out some middling, boring albums that made X&Y look good, but I think we all know that’s unlikely.

That darn fjord.

 

The We Sold A Trilogy Trilogy Part 2: AKA Part Eleven

K, time for some honesty.

The novel I just sold? My eleventh. The sequel to it will be my fifteenth. They weren’t all finished, and they certainly were not all revised and submitted, but all of them crossed that 50,000-word-mark that defines a novel.

I wrote a novel my freshman year of high school, in 1994. One. I wrote a very bad, very long book my senior year, in 1998. Two. I revised it over the next four years and sent it to Tor and Baen, the only houses with open sub calls, after my awesome dad copyedited the whole thing.

Revisions and all, Tor and Baen still rejected my second novel.

What part of 280,000 words, written by a teenager imitating Robert Jordan, wasn’t there to love? Srsly Tor.

I wrote Three in 2002, but it got mired. Four in 2004, which I revised and sent off. Twas roundly rejected. Started two in 2006 that both petered out quickly; I count them both together as Five. Six, in 2008, descended into a 225,000-word mire. Seven, completed in 2009, took four years to revise, then made the rounds and collected personal rejections from many places, including Tor, Harper Voyager, and my current agent. A small press is currently interested in it. Cool new soon.

WAIT, STAY HERE, NOT DONE.

GET SOME TEA. WE’LL BE A WHILE.

In 2010, I wrote Eight to re-do the 2008 mire… and ended up in another mire. In 2011, I wrote Nine, a prequel to pre-empt that… another mire.

(I was producing, submitting, and being crushed repeatedly by short story rejections by this point, too. In case you forgot that part.)

During 2013, I was sitting in a talk by the dorkily dashing Randy Henderson about long-term career planning. At the time I was struggling with Ten, yet another giant epic fantasy novel, a different mire than the last three mires, which had a million story threads and once it was done would take years to rewrite, and I thought…

Gasp. I should just write SHORT novels for a while.

Fifty, sixty thousand words takes a month to write in first draft. And a month to revise. Why was I breaking my brain over books three times, four times that length? I knew how to do short fiction, and all I had to do was expand those skills. What’s more, the problems in fifty thousand words would be proportionally smaller.

So then I wrote Eleven, Twelve and Thirteen in 2014. (My agent also rejected Twelve before she saw Eleven.) I just managed to finish Fourteen’s first draft earlier this year.

That’s a lot of words before I got decent pay for any of them. I’m glad I stuck it out, through tons and tons of rejection. I can only imagine how much more difficult that amount of rejection is for writers from marginalized groups, who put up with a level of BS and aggression I don’t.

Any craft has a “journeyman” period, in which a professional does quality work while still mastering the craft. A lot of good journeyman novels get published–Everything Is Illuminated, The Mysteries of Pittsburgh, Patternmaster–even The Name of the Wind, I think, could be defined as a journeyman piece. But very often in your journeyman period, your flaws still show through.

I think Four was a decent early journeyman piece. Had self-publishing been viable in 2004, I probably would have thrown it up on Amazon to see what happened. I’m glad I didn’t. I’m not putting down self-publishing. But I’ve seen a lot of journeyman writers, who have more raw talent than I did in 2004, write a flawed book with good parts, watch the rejections come in, get frustrated, and self-publish it. Self-pubbing is great if you can pour all your time into it, or if you write something niche enough to sell itself.

It’s not what you should do with your first (or fourth) decent, wide-appeal book because people rejected it. Chances are, if mainstream publishing didn’t want it, it’s not good enough to be a breakout self-pub hit. It’s more likely another journeyman piece.

When I look at all those failed novels, and those wrong turns, and everything I’m learned, I’m not mad at the publishing industry that rejected me, I’m mad at myself for taking so long to learn from my mistakes.

The We Sold A Trilogy Trilogy Part 1: Trilogy!!!!

We bought a zoo!! We sold a trilogy!!

So, I sold a trilogy of a space opera short novels to Tor.com, with, of course, the help of my amazing agent Sara Megibow and my awesome editor Beth Meacham. Film-related rights are with Kim Yau at Paradigm Agency.

AND OMG YOU GUYS IT’S REAL.

I have a LOT of stuff to blog about in regards to this book. Cuz I been trying to sell a book for a while, folks. So this blog post will have to be first… in a trilogy!

So, Part 1: The Idea!

Like most creative endeavors, this book came from one part inspiration, two parts practicality. I’ll speak on the inspiration here and the practicality in the next two blog posts.

Inspiration: sometime in 2013, the opening scene of a thing came into my head. A galactic empire falls. While celebrations sound outside, in the inner corridors of power, a single order rings out: Kill all the humans.

I loved this scene, and what it predicted: a chase scene novel, set in the wake of a devastating war that had BLOWN UP A LOT OF SPACESHIPS SWOOSH PSHOOM. The inner child, mostly interested in thingsblowinupinspace!!!1!!!!!, joined forces with the outer 36-year-old history-buff political skeptic. Violent revolutionaries, especially in the 20th century, don’t have a good track record once they get into office.

I wanted to write a story where the scrappy Rebellion acted less like action figures, and more like Bolsheviks.

(At first, when I didn’t have any story details but the opening scene, my working title was “Kill Luke Skywalker.”)

I knew the characters in this story would have to come from several groups: the refugees themselves, the soldiers confronting corrupt orders, and of course, the Han Solo/Mal Reynolds types, those petty crooks. What’s a space opera without a wretched hive of scum and villainy?

Shortly thereafter, Jaqi and Araskar, the smuggler and soldier I knew to be crucial to the story, found their voices. Jaqi would be young, out of her depth, but principled; Araskar would be struggling with combat trauma and drug addiction.

And by consequence, my galaxy moved away from Star Wars into its own place. It is populated not by aliens and humans, but by “crosses”–various species created by genetic tampering. Crosses were the underclass, and humans the “bluebloods.” Genocide and racial purity took on even more of a presence in the story.

In 2014, when I had the first few stabs at this space opera story, I showed it to my soon-to-be editor, Beth Meacham, at a writing conference. She encouraged me to finish it and send it to her, and keep it short for the Tor.com novella/short novel line. I ran all the way home (pretty much, guys) and finished a first draft, rewrote it to something decent in 2015, and off it went.

AND NOW YOU SHALL READ IT. In 2017.

TUNE IN NEXT BLOG for the story of how practicality played into this, and how I decided to write a teeny little space opera instead of the massive doorstopper fantasies I usually write…

Music Monday

Sometimes the universe is a harsh, cold, bitter place.

And sometimes you find out that Mavis Staples recorded a cover of Funkadelic’s “Can You Get To That,” on an album produced by Jeff Tweedy. And the world is a great place.

Music Monday (It’s Still Monday Somewhere!)

My band of a few years ago went through this failed democratization process. We all agreed that everyone would get a chance to present one song to everyone else each practice, and we would make a good faith effort to learn the songs.

Our drummer, out of some sadistic impulse, proposed Squeeze’s “Tempted” as the first democratized cover. It could have been the ten billion different chords, or it could have been the lines about toothbrushes and socks, or the way we kept inappropriately singing, “Tempted by the fruit of your brother…” to the point where our singer couldn’t remember the right words, but… it did not work out. The song has made me shudder every since.

Until I saw this low-fi, punky version by OK GO for the AV Club’s Undercover! Holy crap! I absolutely love this version! I love the sleepy vocals, the bare-bones instrumentation, even that weird synth in the chorus. Toothbrushes ho!

Cascade Writers Wraps Up Again!

Once again, I had a dizzyingly great weekend at Cascade Writers, the best little workshop in the Northwest.

This year, I taught FOUR, count em, FOUR things. I taught Dialogue & Pacing, both of which I’ve done before, and both of which could have used another hour to do some work. I also taught Making Your Weaknesses Work For You, which went pretty well, but I think I could use a different format for the next time I do it. This time I tried to do a whole “Find Your Process” exercise, and I should have gotten to the weaknesses sooner! I was roped by Matt Youngmark into helping teach Tense & Point of View, and ended up talking for a long time about progressive, perfect & simple tenses. That is important stuff, but I don’t know if anyone (beside me) really glories in it. BUT. IS IMPORTANT. Will blog about that soon, as well.

I had a couple of big realizations this year. (This is why I love CW. So many brain-wheels be turning.)

One realization came during my own Pacing workshop. Because I was, at the moment, teaching the VERY THING I needed to apply to my own book.

#dumbofeather

Another odd realization: I did some business which I’ll be able to brag about soon, and realized that I am actually starting what seems like a (gasp) writing career.  And… I’ve spent so long thinking of writing as the dominating force in my free time that… I’m not sure how to think about it as a job. I might, maybe, even achieve my (still far-off) goal of getting a decent second income out of it.

I can definitely treat it as a job. I’ve wrung an hour out of my free time for writing every day for years, so there’s that. On the other hand, I’m not a MAXIMIZING EARNING POTENTIAL GRAPH CHART GRAPH MUTUAL FUND guy. I write until something isn’t fun anymore; I move on to another project and come back and finish when the muse wants to. I’ve written a few commissioned & contracted works, and they always require a lot more head-scratching and soul-searching than the ones that spring forth, fully formed like Athena in metal word armor, from my brainpan.

This is a thought I am developing, and will blog on more. STAY THOU TUNED.