Spring break is almost over! Yaaay (boo)! I still don’t have all my homework done. Exactly what I expected to happen this break, despite spending over 15 hours on courses already.
Between paper research that may or may not include multiple watchings of Idiocracy and This Film is Not Yet Rated, I’ve also been tackling professional representation/improvement on my writing work. My journey with this, the greatest failure and success of a novel, is a long and sordid one: one I wish to talk about for others in a similar field.
First off, I’m writing about the novel Of Salt and Wine, an urban fantasy that follows a 23 year old guy with a penchant to see the dead, PTSD from relationships and violence, and a complex strategy to keep the two apart. He is hired to help a priest fight demons in the church, makes a few friends, astral projects through psychic warfare, saves the day.
I began writing this beautiful/disgusting thing somewhere around 2008. I used inspiration from Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files environments and magic practices, Dean Koontz’s Phantoms horror feel, Lovecraft’s psychedelic mental process, and a healthy dose of ghost hunting from television. I used my girlfriend at the time’s magic practices and invented the evil. I originally wrote it as a creepy horror, tried to hard-boil it like Butcher’s detective work, and eventually hated it for its lack of pizzazz, its lack of my voice.
Rough draft was finished within a year. In fact, a second novel, the sequel, was also finished by 2010. I was on a roll. I loved what I wrote. The writing sucked. Like, sucked. Rereading It Gave Me a Name (the name of the book at the time) felt similar to some overdramatic version of The Office meets Crimson Peak, filled with stage blood and, I perceived, ample fourth wall breaks to explain to the reader exactly how scary it was and how important it was for the reader to be scared. Look! Evil!
It was mine. My baby. I loved it. I hated it. I rewrote 2/3 of it, removing all the Hard Boiled aspects that only served to make the MC look like a constipated manic-depressive literally running from his own shadow. Shadow’s name, by the way, was Jack. Still is. Improved the stupid thing to a whole new level. Still sucked. My brother and girlfriend read it: brother loved it, girlfriend said she wanted nothing to do with it (heh), made revisions according to their thoughts. Added a character to the mix; my MC needed more love. Sex is important, and for some reason I write sexless MCs until I realize the poor bastard needs a bone once in a while.
Poverty brought about diabetes (2012), and I was a zombie for nearly a year after I was diagnosed; all creativity dead, all motivation dead. Yet as a desperate writer clinging to tattered sailcloth and a bit of wood, I rewrote IGMAN while unable to creatively improve. Desperation caused the death of IGMAN as I knew it; the whole story felt written by a ten year old with little knowledge of anything. Crazy scenes added where MC investigated raccoon scratches in attics and whatnot, totally unimportant to the book, and huge swaths of the book “rewritten” to reflect a “better to understand” style of writing. It was honestly, honestly worse than anything I had written since my first foray into writing. Garbage. Terrifying.
My creativity returned, I revamped the thing once more, rewriting 95% of the book and keeping only the bare structure of the initial thing in. My writing was powerful, creative, robust (2013). The scenery was my trademark half-real, half-dreaming voice that brought symbolic and physical together. I loved it. The writing worked.
I hired a proofreader/editor, (Still impoverished), and spent 400 bucks for the guy to professionally edit it (2013). He returned the novel to me with minimal edits, perhaps three or four a chapter, usually involving mistypes or some verb tense agreement issue. My brother proofed it better, and he’s an engineer. Substantive edits done (and title changed from It Gave Me a Name to Of Salt and Wine), I believed it to be in its final draft. I finished the editor’s recommendations, the alpha readers’ recommendations, and decided to get it out to agents and publishers. Then came the Synopsis, the Query Letter, the Overview, the Sales Pitches. Each agency, each publisher, looked for specific steps to be taken for queries. I followed them religiously, made files for each submission, rewrote a single page Synopsis fifty times, still couldn’t write it the way I wanted. Bought Writer’s Digest, followed twenty agents/writers/publishers on Twitter, haunted writers/editors on Facebook, tried to wedge my way into the craziness that is the publishing world.
Form rejections fell like rain from the mailman’s dusty fingers. I received over twenty for the book. It hurt. It hurt more that I got zero actual, physical reply from anyone. I had nowhere to improve. This thing that walked with me through tragedy and violence still sat unappreciated on my computer. I re-read, edited more, found my eyes glazing over the words now that I had wrote it so many times, read it so many times.
It grew to be 123,000 words. I found a job that kicked me out of poverty, got married to the girlfriend, got divorced from the wife, worked a mind-numbing job that paid the bills and created a retirement for three years (2016), moved back to college for a degree, and now I’m looking at the MS again. (THREE YEARS OF NOT LOOKING AT IT!) I decided to self publish. I control my distribution, control the creative output, control sales. I attended St. Louis Publisher’s Association a few times, found the community (but couldn’t attend regularly due to said job), studied up on self-publication until my eyes bled.
Being the glutton I am for punishment, I wondered if my editor didn’t do as much good as I thought he did. I currently am in negotiations with a professional freelance editing company that charges whoa but is dedicated to doing substantive work on my book. It is terrifying: I want this out so bad. The editor asked all the questions I wanted him to, including: Why do you want to publish this book? What is your idea of success for this book? Are you willing to wait two years to publish this book? What’s the inspiration for this book? What similar books sit beside your book at the bookstore? Etc. It is honestly a rush. Not cheap for a college kid with no money. Not cheap at all. But worth the effort, in my opinion.
So here I am with a second round of intense edits coming down the pipe sometime over the summer, and this book is finally in the right hands for improvement. The journey isn’t over, and far from it. I could be looking at a 2019 publication, and that’s fine for me. I now have three other finished novels in the wing (on top of the mostly untouched sequel), and one I’m writing (Corpus Paradisum).
I hope this helps other writers out there. This wasn’t an easy road, and I’m not sure if the end product will reflect what I think it will, but it’s been a phenomenal journey. A journey that continues.