While doing interviews to talk about my first two published novels, I’ve been asked quite a few times about what advice I would give to give writers who are starting out. Apart from the fact that I, too, am only starting out in this business, and am hardly a guru of sage advice, I don’t hesitate to say what I suppose everyone says: don’t give up: you don’t need to have instant success to be famous for centuries, and even after you’re dead, you might make the big time – words are eternal. If you keep getting rejections from your first novel, then go ahead and start on the second. Keep dusting off that first one now and then, however, and give it a read through, change what you don’t like and send it off again. You never know when someone will see enough of a sparkle in your work that they help you polish it up.
I say it without hesitation because it happened to me. My first novel, Leaving the Pack, had turned from a novella into a full-length novel back in 1994. I’d gotten some encouraging feedback from some friends and so I expanded what I’d written at the age of seventeen and sent it out to publishers, and agents, and more publishers… And a few of them, mostly small independent and ebook publishers liked the idea enough to give me a heads up on editing it. But it needed too much work for them to take on at the time. So I went on with my academic work and started my second full-length novel, Five Days on Ballyboy Beach. And I learned a little more about writing books in the process. And now and then I’d take a look at Leaving the Pack, and send it somewhere new.
A day job that went from biology research to teaching English as a foreign language gave me a vision of the basic grammatical and syntax problems that the manuscript had that writing a 300 page doctoral thesis hadn’t. I could now fix those problems myself and I did. A relatively light workload and no responsibilities gave me time to write more and get a little better at the whole thing. The second manuscript, despite being written better in the first draft, was rejected just as the first had, and so I started a third.
After all, writing was something that was inside me. I’d been doing it since my teens and I wasn’t going to stop just because I was terrible at it! I did sometimes despair that I could read many more books if I’d only stop wasting time trying to wring something decent from my own pen, but I always went back to the blank paper and delighted scribbling across it.
Fast forward a decade, a couple of life and job moves from Spain to America and back, a few more novels, each more expertly-crafted than the one before, and continuous rewrites, title changes, character name changes, and more submissions of that first manuscript, one day the novel landed on the lap, or laptop, of the right reader and a contract with Tirgearr Publishing arrived in the post.
I’d always had faith in the idea, and turning it into a trilogy, with one of the old names Silver Nights was easy. Even if it was written badly, I’d told folks, I thought my werewolf novel was worth a look just because the idea -sparked by Whitley Strieber’s novel The Wolfen – was original, and I’d never seen anything like it in all the movies that had come out in the years since I’d started writing it. And it seemed so perfectly logical that someone should have thought of it. Perhaps a biologist was needed to understand the physiology behind, though, but an English teacher was needed to write it. And when my editor got the document, she thanked me for having such a clean manuscript! I was tempted to take the praise, but admitted it was so clean because several editors had helped me, and I’d spent twenty years rewriting it – there were few typos left to spot.
I submitted the manuscript of Five Days on Ballyboy Beach to the same editor. This was not nearly as clean: only by the good graces of my editor did she keep reading and discover the sparkle among the dust. She got out her diamond drill and cut and cleaned and polished up something worth publishing. Within four months I went from being unpublished to having two novels on the market, and am busy working on several more, including the other two books in the Silver Nights Trilogy.
(c) David J. O’Brien