If you've had a chance to poke around my website you might've noticed that I've written a book. If you know me, you've probably had to listen to me yap on about it for a while now. For those who don't know, the book is titled WAKE OF WAR and it's a military sci-fi about the horrors of a future civil war.
(Would you like to know more? Click here).
And somehow, by the grace of all the gods to have ever existed, it's caught the interest of my NUMBER ONE DREAM AGENT. I'm not talking about a fictional person who visits only in my imagination, but a real-life, flesh and blood literary agent who happens to be a juggernaut in the sci-fi/fantasy industry. We've been working together for about a year now to get the book to a point where it's ready to be published and it's really starting to come together. You may be thinking "wow, that's a long time" and it is, but professional quality work doesn't happen overnight. However... (there's always a catch, right?) nothing is final and anything can happen so this person will remain unidentified until the time comes when we sign some contracts. Although this is an exciting (see also: panic-inducing) process, I've allowed myself only the most minimal amount of celebration because I'm not the kind of guy who starts his touchdown dance at the 5 yard line. It's close, but I haven't broken the plane just yet (sports metaphors!). Thing is, I didn't just end up here all of the sudden.
*record scratch, freeze-frame*
Let's start at the beginning.
*cut to boy in the mid-90s with bowl cut, Looney Tunes t-shirt and pump sneakers reading Michael Crichton's Jurassic Park.*
The movie came out in '93, I was in 3rd grade and it was the absolute most perfect time for me to see it. What 9 year old boy didn't love dinosaurs? (If you raised your hand you can get the hell out). Soon after, I learned it was based on a book that adults said was scary and gory. I had to read it. I did read it, and to this day it remains one of my favorite books. It inspired me to write my own stories, so at school I'd collect spiral notebooks and fill them with tales of adventure, hapless scientists in over their heads, alternate dimensions, monsters, aliens, mystery, whatever I could think of. I even have one of those old books still and I have to say it's actually quite good if not utterly derivative of my favorite movies at the time (there's a character that's straight-up the Predator from the Schwarzenegger film).
I grew up and homework became more demanding, girls became intriguing and terrifying all at once, people started talking about college and careers and silly things like writing about monsters went to the back burner. It happens. But I didn't quit completely. I'd write things in fits and starts, mostly only a page or so long, sometimes more. I never knew why I was doing it, never really thought about the end game, I was just doing what I felt compelled to do. My imagination never went away; even as I stood guard in Iraq watching the sun rise over the hazy sprawl of Mosul I was thinking up stories. I was inspired by the things around me. I called them "cool scenarios" at the time because that's all they were; scenes and ideas in my head. Really just exercise for my imagination.
Then (long) after I got out of the Army I started going to night school to chase down a degree because that's what successful, functional adults are supposed to do (right?). For the first time in ten years I had homework again. I thought I was going to be a laughing stock, that I was so behind I'd flunk right out, but as my papers came back with solid grades and professors had positive comments about my writing ability, I began to find confidence and embrace it. Even if I was just writing academic papers, I was still writing. One day I found that as I sat down to read, my mind would wander and I'd start imagining how I'd write the rest of the chapter. My brain took off and before I knew it I was writing these ideas down. When I told my wife that I wanted to write fiction she didn't laugh or tell me to grow up, she encouraged it (because she's an amazing, supportive woman and I'm not just saying that because I know she's reading this...).
Of course my first attempts were the typical, cliche-ridden messes that almost everyone vomits out. You know what I'm talking about; heroes that can do no wrong, evil villains for the sake of being evil villains, meandering stories with no plot, changing tenses mid-paragraph...But with each attempt I learned what I was doing wrong and improved on the next. I'd write, realize the story sucked and toss it aside, sometimes getting as much as 60,000 words down before giving up. At this point I'd heard about self-publishing websites and figured I'd just print off one or two copies of my book and have it on my shelf. That'd be cool, right?
I don't remember what made me realize I wanted to try for traditional publishing, but realize it I did, and it went from hobby to full-time fucking obsession like that *snaps fingers*. I started a Twitter account just to follow my favorite authors. I learned about agents and editors and publishers and the steps you have to take to get to that level. I started going to local author talks and readings and writing conventions. All the while I continued to write.
And then it happened. I finished a book.
Not by accident, either. It was a well planned endeavor that I dedicated myself to. I'll talk more about the specifics of that process in another post, so stay tuned (or else). By the time I finished WAKE OF WAR I had a list of literary agents I wanted to submit to and I knew who my number one, top preference was. Loooong fucking shot this person would ever be interested in anything my sorry-ass could conjure up, but still. Had to try. I shit you not a month after I finished the book I got a flier in the mail about an upcoming sci-fi/fantasy writer's convention happening near me and this NUMBER ONE DREAM AGENT was on the guest list. I bought my ticket, practiced my pitch and went to meet him.
Let me tell you about anxiety.
You know that feeling when you're sitting outside a conference room waiting to be called in for a job interview? Where you're forcing a smile and pretending to be calm but you know you're about to walk into a room full of strangers for the sole purpose of being judged? Heart hammering, throat dry, praying you don't forget your lines. Multiply that by a hundred. I got to the convention, saw a bunch of authors I've read and admired, people I look up to far more than any Hollywood celebrity, all of them mingling and chatting, having a good old time...while I lurked in the corner alone and creepy. There was another author there who I knew was agented by the person I was hoping to meet and we struck up a conversation in the hotel lobby. Pure fucking chance would have it that his agent came over while we were talking and the author introduced us. He didn't have to do that, he didn't know me from a hole in the ground, but later he'd tell me that someone did that for him, so he did it for me. I hope to be able to do that for others one day (when I'm ultra-famous and go to red-carpet parties like Hank Moody).
So there I was face-to-face with my NUMBER ONE DREAM AGENT. We sat down and talked, but not about my book. Which I thought was odd. But it turns out this agent prefers to get to know a person and make sure he gets along with them before committing to any kind of professional obligation. So we chatted, got to know each other a bit and then he asked me to send him my manuscript. Not a partial, not a few chapters...the whole fucking thing.
This is unreal. There are steps to the submission process. Trials everyone must endure just to get out of the trenches, let alone find success. So I sent him my manuscript and waited. Impatiently. I must've checked my email fifty times a day every day for about a month. It's critical in this time, though, to not reach out and pester the agent, you don't want to come off as some kind of psycho. They need time to read, time to digest, they've got other published authors in their bullpen (more sports references, get used to it) that obviously take precedent over some unknown putz like me. So I waited.
By the third month I figured it was a wash. My book must've been so bad this agent didn't even want to waste another moment to send an email letting me know how awful a person I am for creating something so trashy. But I expected this, so I was oddly OK with it. Then on the fourth month I got an email asking to set up a phone call.
I thought, "OHMYGODHOLYSHIT". When an agent wants to offer representation, they set up a phone call, they certainly don't waste time with a call to tell you 'no'. The call came in, I pretended not to be freaking out, and was basically told 'no'.
I didn't quite understand. But we talked for the better part of an hour discussing what was good and what needed work. He told me to make some changes, tighten it up and send it back. This is called a 'revise and resubmit', and it's awesome. It means there's something the agent liked, something they think has promise. This agent is very involved with the editorial process and the advice he's given me is invaluable. Publishers know this about him which is one of the reasons he's so successful; they know he brings quality books to market.
I set a deadline for myself (because professional authors work under deadlines so might as well practice) of three months for the revision. I cut the original draft from 120,000 words to 100,000 words and sent it back. More waiting, more anxiety. Then another phone call. This time the book was closer, but not quite there (insert joke about horseshoes and hand grenades). I hadn't realized the extent of revision it still needed because when you're so close to something so big for so long you tend to not see things objectively. This is EXACTLY the reason I want to work with this agent. No *traditionally published* book is created alone. We talked about some more complex edits and I spent about two weeks brainstorming and fighting relentless panic. But you gotta get over that shit and work. Like Shia LaBeouf said, "JUST DO IT."
I met with this agent again at this year's convention and we walked around South Boston talking about my book, what I'm doing for this next round of revisions, and where the best bakeries are within walking distance of the hotel. It was a good conversation and I'm hopeful that WAKE OF WAR is close to ready to send out into the world.
I'm incredibly excited and still not completely convinced any of this is really happening, but the dream hasn't ended yet so...onward.
From writing my first stories with pencil and paper all those years ago to trying my hand at doing this professionally, it's been a long time in the making. Hopefully I stick the landing here real soon and I can't wait to share more (good) news with you.