The Evolution of A First Novel

I recently posted a five-part series in this blog about how I write, included in which are references to my upcoming novel, Your Truth is Out There. It recently occurred to me, however, that the overall evolution of the book itself might be of interest to some.

The initial idea for the story came to me one day while stuck in traffic. I was actually way in the back of a long line of cars, all waiting for our turn at a stop light. It was one of those infuriatingly short lights that only allowed a few cars through at a time before turning red again. You know the ones I mean. 

Being the sci-fi geek I am, after about the third or fourth cycle of the "long red-quick green-basic yellow-back to long red again," where I'd barely made it half-way to the front of the line, I began daydreaming about how nice it would be to have a flying car instead of being anchored to the ground, gravity's eternal prisoner. With a flying car, I could simply lift off, fly over this mess and proceed on to my destination—no muss, no fuss. Of course, my next thought was that if I had a flying car, everyone else would probably also have one, as well. (Regardless of what my mom has always told me, I do realize I'm not THAT special!) That put me back in the same dilemma. If everyone had flying cars, the same traffic problems would still exist, just 50 feet off the ground. Ultimately this train of thought led me to outer space (as many trains within my mind often lead) and to wonder what it would be like out there, where there are no roads—particularly in the parts inhabited by the vast galactic civilization everyone knows exists (but nobody talks about) and that commutes between planets like we do from the 'burbs to our jobs.

With that as my backdrop, I devised my initial incident which has one if my protagonists, an accountant named Gsefx (pronounced "Zef"), stuck in traffic on his way to work, ultimately leading to his being late (again), and getting fired for it. I allowed this idea roll around in my head for awhile, adding more characters and plot details until I had the makings of what I believed to be a pretty decent little short story. 

Short until I began writing it, that is.

I worked on it, off and on for quite some time, through job changes, moves and other life-changing events. By the time I finally "finished," more than five years had passed, and my "short" story had become a 19,000 word novella. Not knowing what else to do with it, I packed it up (after proofing & editing it numerous times, of course), and shipped it off to The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, dreaming of overnight success and instant stardom. After all, who would be able to resist such an incredible story, right?

There are many things I appreciate about The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. Its editor, Gordon Van Gelder, and his team do a tremendous job of putting out a unique selection of entertaining stories every other month—an increasingly difficult task as the world of publishing (and reader habits) continues to change. As a potential contributor to the magazine, however, one of the things I appreciate most about it, is its fast turnaround time. They don't sit on submissions for months on end, keeping the author on pins and needles (while also keeping them from submitting their story elsewhere).

I received my rejection letter from them in less than a week.

Now, as weird as it may sound, I was actually quite pleased to receive that letter. It symbolized several things for me. As my very first rejection letter, it meant I'd actually submitted something, which in turn, meant I'd actually finished something. Something I believed worthy of letting someone in a position of authority (an editor) read and judge. That was a big step in and of itself. Beyond that, however, I did some additional research on the magazine's web site and user forums, and found that the editor actually had three different rejection letters that he sent out: one which meant the story was so bad, he could barely get through the title, another, which meant he starter reading the story, but couldn't get through the whole thing, and the third, which meant he read it, and may have even liked it somewhat, but that the story just wasn't right for the magazine. I received the third version, which, for a first-time submission, was a tremendous boost of confidence—even if it did come in the form of a rejection letter. 

More than a boost of confidence, it was inspirational. Someone I didn't know, who was also a recognized authority on science fiction had read my story all the way through, and even though he wasn't going to print it, he...well, he made it all the way through. That was enough for me. Perhaps I could do this after all...

...later, after I write some other stories first. 

Yes, my little story that had turned into a novella, that had then turned into an inspirational rejection went almost, but not quite directly, into the dreaded bottom drawer, where it stayed for quite some time. It wasn't that I'd lost faith in it, or that the rejection letter, inspirational though it was had got to me, it was simply that after all I'd put into it, I was tired of the story and I didn't know what else to do with it. So I put it away. And wrote some others. I wrote some good stories. I wrote some mediocre stories. I even wrote a couple of real stinkers (which I'd just as soon forget), but in every case, I learned, and continued to write. 

Eventually, the time came when the characters from the (untitled) space novella began calling to me again, asking when I was going to come back to them. Coincidentally, this was also about the same time I discovered the availability of self-publishing on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. I dove back into the story, making several rounds of edits before self-publishing on the aforementioned platforms in January 2013, under the title "Rockin' Across the Galaxy." Success is a relative term that must be defined by each individual, based on their own expectations at their particular point in their career. From a commercial standpoint, "Rockin'" was by no means successful. I don't know exactly how many copies I sold, but I'm sure it was less than 50. (I did have a few "free" weekends, which generated several hundred downloads, but no revenue.) However, from a critical perspective, it was a tremendous success. Even removing the glowing reviews by my friends and family, I received several positive reviews by others who had no connection to me whatsoever (and therefore no reason to overly kind). This was another tremendous self-confidence boosting experience. The one major criticism that was nearly unanimous was that my ending was a cliffhanger that was way too abrupt. Everyone wanted to know what happened next. Though the cliffhanger ending was unintentional on my part, I took it as a good sign that people were invested enough in the story and characters to want to know what happened next.

So, I began working on the sequel. As I did, it became more and more clear to me that I needed to remove  "Rockin'" from sales and integrate it into the new book, reworking some parts to make a stronger overall piece. Now, as I work through my second round of edits, and toward a late spring/early summer release, I feel the whole thing coming together so well, I couldn't be more excited about launching this book. I do think those who enjoy character driven sci-fi adventure will really enjoy it.

And to think it all began while stuck in traffic!