Sometime in the late 1980s, I decided to write a novel. Up till that point, I’d been a short story writer — and an unsuccessful one, at that — who penned cyberpunk and dark fantasy tales with brief excursions into traditional fantasy. My biggest claim to “fame” at the time was a self-published role-playing game (Rogue Warrior, 1986) that got a little local press and fed my ego well beyond what my skill should have permitted. It was time to make the jump into book-length fiction, I decided. Time to go for the brass ring. Thus, in 1989 I enrolled in the Writer’s Digest School for Novel Writing; my assigned mentor was Elizabeth Ann Scarborough — fresh off her Nebula win for the novel Healer’s War.
I plunged head-first into the class materials, reading and analyzing comparable books, brainstorming my idea (a cyberpunk adventure tale reminiscent of William Gibson), creating characters, plotting, writing a synopsis . . . it went swimmingly until the last lesson: write the first 30,000 words. And then, the blank page caught up with me. I dithered. I wrote and rewrote the opening few pages. I doubted myself, second-guessing every decision until finally, wreathed in the stink of self-imposed shame, I simply let my enrollment lapse. Thinking back, I couldn’t tell you today what that book was about, who its characters were, or even what I called it. It became a learning experience (and an expensive one for a young, newly-married pizza guy).
But, I wasn’t done. Oh, no! Back to the drawing board I went and another cyberpunk tale emerged: “Skins”, the story of a young Native American fighting the Faceless Corporations in order to restore his people to their place as stewards of the land — a land ruined by greed, capitalism, and corruption. It went well for six chapters, and then . . . pfft. Nothing. I dithered, wrote and rewrote. Finally, I convinced myself it simply wasn’t my story to tell, since I have only a dram of Native blood in my veins. But I had a novel. I was sure of it. Thus, undeterred, I went back to square one . . .
The first few years of the 1990s followed this same pattern. Dozens, if not hundreds of ideas broke the surface of my little creative pond; most sank like the stones they were. A few floated long enough to create an impression, then dissolved. A handful flailed about like drowning sailors, fighting for the rope that meant salvation. But out of all that froth and verbiage, one . . . ONE stuck, and it was as unlikely a novel as any ever conceived.
Sometime in ’95 or ’96, I decided to write a pastiche Conan novel.
To be continued . . .