In just under a month, my first professional sale in over a decade will be in the hands of readers. As with any project, there are a lot of things that go into getting a book ready for publication, and many people. In the last few months, I’ve watched this book go from a hypothetical to an inkling to a pitch to a contract to a first draft, and then it left my control for the first time. It came back commented, then edited, then edited again. It went away, and then the real work began.
Art directors worked at finding a good match between the ideas in my head and the realities of cover design. Drafts of product information and marketing text were exchanged and modified. Slowly, inexorably, the book moved forward, until finally it became a real thing.
It had a release date. Before it had a cover, before we were happy with the product information and sales sheet, it had a release date. It stared at me from the web, burned in my brain at night while I pretended to sleep.
I had a release date, and this was really going to happen.
Mind you, I had a contract long before this revelation. I’d met my editor, shook his hand, and talked extensively about what would happen and when. But a release date trumped every one of those moments, until something else started happening.
Without a cover, with no marketing, before I’d even told anyone, the book started to sell.
I had sales. And a release date.
And the reason why had as much to do with why I’d written the piece, rather than what I’d written about.
So let’s talk about the Mongoliad.
A few years back, some really smart guys decided to write a new kind of novel. A story about the past written in “real-time”, with serial chapters that allowed the public to comment on and engage the authors in discussion. The story evolved as the community of readers did, with graphics, social media, and an interactive wiki page. The project drew a lot of attention, and eventually was chosen as one of the books to launch amazon.com’s new publishing imprint, 47North.
Envisioning a shared world project with multiple authors and building an entire world from scratch was no mean feat, but the work was not finished with the publication of the Mongoliad. (by the way, if you haven’t bought a copy of your own yet, it’s available in various print, recorded, and e-formats right now.) For the Foreworld to truly live and grow, more voices needed to tell more stories, and the Side Quests were born.
Drawing on the incredible amount of backstory generated while researching the main plot, the Side Quests shine a light on other parts of the shared universe. As of this writing, there are eight such stories, covering protagonists as diverse as reluctant knights, vikings, renaissance sword masters, and even a certain forest dwelling champion of the poor.
So when I was approached about adding to this amazing collection of stories, my first thought was to dive into the middle ages and start kicking over plot rocks until a story presented itself. I’d read the Mongoliad, explored the Side Quests, and saw some areas that fit in nicely with research I’d already done on another project. Over some drinks and enchiladas, I started talking about parts of Europe and what was happening when with head writer Mark Teppo, and we agreed that a good setting was only part of the process. A story needs a person as much as a place, and to have a compelling one we’d need a main character worth writing about.
Wikipedia got a good workout during that session, as we dashed through links and biographies as fast as we could drink. And given that I first met Mark over rapidly diminishing glasses of scotch, you can imagine our data usage that night. In the end, one person rose up as “the one.”
Or rather, one Name.
How can you not want to write a story about someone with that name? Or a dozen of them? The more we read about the Hautevilles, the more we knew that their stories had to be told as part of the Foreworld. Especially since one of their descendants was already somewhat important in the saga…
But that’s a story for another time. William and his brothers were the perfect choice for me to have competent and compelling action heroes for my story. Armed with the man and his name, I left that initial meeting knowing not only that I could tell a story worth reading, but also one that had to be told.
In the next 24 days (and for quite a few after, I’m hoping), I’ll talk more about William and his story, and how they became mine. But for now, I’ll leave you with this:
History records the deaths of great men, and their finest hours. But a wise man once wrote that life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans. And to think that a bunch of Normans went to Italy and did nothing worth writing about for three years is pure madness.