Writing a novel is a romance. Writing a novel is also a war.
Thirteen years ago I was driving home with my beautiful new bride Becky on our way to, what would be our first home in Abilene, when I decided to mention the fact that I was going to change careers.
“I think I want to be a writer,” I said, only having departed from our honeymoon spot an hour earlier.
She nodded slowly, cautiously. “You’re still going to have a regular job though, right?”
I reassured her I had absolutely no intention of going the Bohemian path, casting away financial responsibility in the face of ‘the dream.’ But it was my earnest belief at twenty-two that if I worked harder than every other writer on the planet, I’d eventually find my way to the Best Seller List.
It took me ten years of writing five to six days every week, along with two dedicated mentors, an infinite amount of patience from my spouse, and a conversation with Joe R. Lansdale for me to publish my first short story. That story was gracefully picked up by a small publisher and can now be found in the Amazon store, though I’m not sure anywhere else.
Emboldened by the sale, I decided I had arrived. It was time for me to take the world by storm. I turned my full attention to the art of the short story. I took Ray Bradbury’s advice and started writing one, seven thousand word story every week. Stories that tailored to the submission needs of all the paying e-mags you’ll find on the Submission Grinder. I submitted to publisher after publisher with story after story.
Want Science Fiction? Here’s my Diesel Punk version of Mad Max killing the Three Little Pigs. Need a Weird Western? Do you have time to talk about this Lonesome Dove meets Vampire Hunter D situation I have going on? Begging for horror? Well, if you must ask, I do have a collection of stories revolving around a corrupted exorcist…
Swinging wildly out of the corner of my little success, I threw every haymaker I had at the publishing world. And I didn’t sell another story for over a year, when I sold my second short story to an anthology, a wonderful little Treasure hunter pulp situation a la Indiana Jones that came in at around five thousand words.
Twelve years in, at this pace, I knew I was never going to leave the kind of legacy I hoped to. I heard the voice of the inner-critic: “You’re wasting your life pouring over that computer each night, sacrificing time with your friends and family. All in the hope that one day you’ll be ‘good enough.’ Not happening, Chief.” My inner-critic, who is probably like yours, is a real jerk.
I decided that the short story work wasn’t cutting it, that if I was going to be who I wanted to be, I needed to start working on novels. I mentioned that to my friend Laird Barron, author of the forthcoming Blood Standard, on the phone one day. A moment of silence passed between the two of us.
“Settle in for a long campaign,” he said.
The way he said the words laid a veil of dread over my mind. After our conversation though, I thought about how far I’d come as a writer, all the tools I’d built, and the voice I am proud to say is uniquely mine. I went over to my desk in my study and on my Legal Pad, I wrote a title, just a title: The Massacre at Yellow Hill.
I didn’t know what it meant. I didn’t know where Yellow Hill was. I for sure didn’t know who was going to die when the killing began. But I could already feel a sense of sorrow for the people who lived in Yellow Hill. I felt a responsibility to tell the story of those metaphorical “little people” living in a dry, dusty town currently only existing as an idea in wet ink. I sat down that night and screwed my mind into a siege mentality.
As writers are wont to say, but it’s true, I started falling in love with the little town of Yellow Hill. Its quirks, its people, and especially its dark corners and secrets. What was more important, and interesting, is that I desperately wanted readers to love this place and the people inside it as much as I did. I wanted people to see the little war I was waging to tell the story of a West Texas widow, a post-Civil War freed slave turned occult bounty hunter, and just as importantly, the children in their lives. I wanted to know the promises they made, the ones they could keep and especially those they could not.
Four months later I had my first novel (just barely, coming in at 56k words). After two months in the can and four months of editing I was happy with the spoils wrought from the siege. A year later, after alpha readers and the harsh, wonderful red lines of my editor Rob Bass, the novel sold and will be published on March 22, 2018 via the wonderful people at Black Rose Writing.
All writing is a long campaign. Novels, short stories, flash fiction; all of it adds up. It’s a war authors wage because stories matter and so do the fictional, true voices that tell them. I believe that now more than ever after experiencing all the work, time and care that went into making this book. Now, I’m on book three, and can’t imagine doing it any other way.
If you’re an aspiring novelist, or really, a storyteller at heart, take Laird’s advice. Settle in for a long campaign. When you’re done falling in love and finish with the attritious work, be proud that the campaign is won. Then, for all our sakes, wage another one.
C.S. Humble is a novelist and short story writer who lives in Houston, Texas. His debut novel The Massacre at Yellow Hill is a Weird Western adventure available through Black Rose Writing, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble. Reach out and connect with him at his blog, facebook, or on twitter.