I might do better at this writing lark if I could just stick to one thing... One genre at the very least.
Not a chance.
I’m a writer. I’m a storyteller. If the story is there to be told, and I’ve got the urge to tell it, there’s no hope for me. Other people doing other jobs don’t really get this aspect of what we do. They don’t’ seem to understand that we can’t help ourselves. We can’t just not do something. We can’t just put down a job or let someone take over, or pass something down the line, or give up. I feel rather sorry for other people. That urge to tell the story is why I keep coming back for more rejection, I suppose. I’m becoming a master at handling rejection. Most of the time, I’m so up to my neck in rejection that drowning in it really doesn’t seem like a very big deal.
I was asked, recently, why I write Warhammer for the Black Library, and I answered, honestly, that all the best stories are about sex and death, and gods and monsters, and that the Black Library pays me decent money to write about three of those four things all at once. Not a lot of paying gigs give a writer the elbow room to do that and have fun with it, and it’s a pleasure and a privilege. You can see how much fun I have doing it by reading Gilead’s Curse, my latest collaboration with the husband. I have it on very good authority that my Skaven are particularly fine, and I can’t tell you how much fun I had with all that sand.
Anyway, the third novel that I wrote for myself was a fantasy novel. Yes, I know the Black Library publishes my fantasy stuff, but not this. This story didn’t fit the IP, and, besides, there was sex in it, and that would never do!
Prom Queen was actually sold. It was sold before it was written. It was sold on the strength of the idea, and on that idea being based in nursery rhymes and fairy tales. There was a whole Grimm thing going on at the time, and publishers were hopping on bandwagons. I got caught in the crossfire.
It was all going terribly well. See how often I say that? One of these days I’ll be grateful for something going badly. That’s when I’ll know to brace myself for a bit of success.
The book got off to a fantastic start. I had a dark, moody prologue, complete with a body. I had a great cast of teenage characters slipping through a portal at their high school prom, into a strange fairytale land, and there they started their adventures. Naturally, their character traits informed their personal story arcs, and the trajectories of those stories brought them all together for a full-on magical, spell-hurling finalé at a fairytale ball. Add Old King Coal and his runaway train, an anxiety stricken teen-girl’s panic dragon, a geek’s cultural referencing magic touch and the prom queen’s fatal streak of vanity, and you’ve got quite a romp. The whole thing was also framed, Stephen King-style, with a death and a school re-union on prom night. You see, back to that body, and sex and death, and... monsters. OK there weren’t any Gods, but you should have seen my monsters! You could hardly ask for more... Or could you?
Turns out... The publishers could ask for more... Or at least not more, but different.
I worked with my editor for four months on this book. It was great. I’d feed her a chunk of words every week, and she’d give me the nod to keep going. About halfway through the process, my editor began to wonder about the audience, and she asked me to beef things up for a more adult readership. I wasn’t worried. I added some psychedelic drugs and upped the ante with the sex, and I sent the changes back. The editor decided she liked the novel better the way it had been in the beginning.
Funny that... Turns out the author was right. No problem. I’d kept every draft. That’s called being a professional. That’s called giving the editor, the publisher, the audience what he, she, they want. I can do that. That’s what writing commercially has taught me to do.
I was so on top of this project. I had to keep stopping to pat myself on the back.
I got paid!
Then something happened.
Then the next call didn’t come from the editor, it came from her boss.
He wasn’t sure what the book was or where to shelve it, or how it fit with the imprint, or what genre it was.
It was great. He loved it. It was just a bit... A bit...
You see. That’s me. That’s what happens when I write what I want to write. I go apeshit bananas and I write what I want to write!
The publisher realised that I’d written the book that I told them I was going to write. He realised that the book matched the synopsis and the writing matched the samples. He just hadn’t really realised what he was getting.
People aren’t very bright, are they? You can say it until you’re blue in the face, and I never said anything different, but if it’s too dark, or too subtle, or too clever, or too other, or if they just don’t get it, or they don’t like it, or they don’t think an audience is going to get it or like it that’s the end of the game.
I got paid for Prom Queen, and the publisher signed a release returning ownership of the work to me. I’m not sure how that stuff works, but if anyone else ever decides to buy the work I could end up being paid twice for it.
I rather like Prom Queen. I like it because it’s about characters. I like it because it uses fairy tales without relying on them. I didn’t want to do that. I didn’t want to just regurgitate tales that, in my opinion, were told to wonderful effect in their original incarnations. I loved referencing them. I didn’t want to retell or adapt them.
I’ve got my own stories to tell. No one can stop me telling my stories. Of course, they can stop them getting published, and so far, they’ve done that, but they can’t stop me writing them down. They’ll never stop me writing them down.
If Prom Queen ever does see the light of day, there’s another idea waiting to go, and, probably another after that. I could write a whole damned series about these guys, or at least the little ginger bloke with his Star Trek fetish and his empathy. Who knows, maybe I'll write them anyway.
* I made this cover for Prom Queen using a photo I took of my daughter for the purpose. She's depicting one of the characters, and, yes, that is her hair escaping out of the top of her turban! I can't help thinking she looks rather fabulous.