I think those may be some of the most dangerous words in the English language . Not so much because of themselves, but because of where they can take you. in the words of Bilbo Baggins - "It's a dangerous business, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don't keep your feet, there's no telling where you might be swept off to."
But that, in a sense, was the wave breaking. If you ever watched a wave break on a shore, did you ever think about where it rose? Where it started? What shift of the deeper sea began it?
Well. Once upon a time...
Once upon a time - there was a cave. This is what it looks like. Well, it does when it's empty:
The cave doesn't actually exist, but that doesn't stop it being real - not to some people anyway . Because this cave, it exists in an online game. When it was first released in December 2003 it was called 'Horizons: Empire of Istaria'. These days it's still there, but it's called Istaria - Chronicles of the Gifted.
Yes, it's still there. Still around after some nine years. The game's still there - and so is the cave. I know it is, because I went there last night to take that picture.
Of course, I didn't go there as me. I went there as a grumpy old dragon, who never uses one word where ten will do. He's called Sephiranoth. And one thing about dragons - they love their gems. And one thing about dragon lairs in Istaria - they take a lot of gems (and other things) to build. And one day, long ago (about seven years ago, around 2005), Sephiranoth was in that cave, digging up gems. And it turned out he wasn't the only person there. Someone else was there. Someone not a dragon. Someone standing on two legs. Someone called Sonea (does that name ring any bells ?). But, like most things, such a meeting should be put in perspective. Because in Istaria, dragons do not necessarily find themselves on the end of a pointy stick wielded by a Knight in shiny armour. They actually get on quite well with two legged folks. Well, when they let the two legged folks get a word in edgeways, anyway . So lets do that. Put things in perspective, I mean:
Dragons, you see, are a little large .
So what does all this have to do with 'A Comedy of Terrors'? Well. That's the thing, you see. All that 'once upon a time'...
One of the things about online games is, they tend to divide into the RPers (Role Players) and the, um, non-RPers. And the RPers, they tend to have stories for their characters. Before Horizons had even released I had a history written for Sephiranoth. I knew who he was, where he came from - where he was going. And the player behind Sonea (who I eventually learned was called Pat), she wanted a history too. She'd heard some of Sephiranoth's, and wanted to know if we could maybe do something for Sonea together. Just a page or two...
Those are other dangerous words. 'Just a page or two'. Over time, we started expanding that 'page or two'. The pages turned into little stories of their own. Stories we would tell to the other players online some nights. And one day - well, one day after nearly three years of not-writing a book - we sort of realised we were. Writing a book, that is. And (missing out lots of boring bits about the company changing hands, then changing to worse hands, then to much better hands) - well, another day (in 2008) the company that owns the game decided they liked the book (or what they'd seen of it) enough to want to publish it for their players. That was this book:
It can still be found, if anyone wants to find it. We wrote it (to the best of our ability) so it could be read even by non-players - but don't blame the company for the layout. That was my fault, and I'm an Idiot . I knew a lot less about such things then than now.
But that's not important right now. I'm not trying to sell you that book. I'm not even trying to sell you 'A Comedy of Terrors' . This is just 'once upon a time'...
Some time after 'Thunder and Lightning' came out, Pat and I wondered whether it might have a place in the wider world. So, as one does, I did my not unusual dragon-in-a-china-shop impersonation - and some research. And I found out one of the things you're supposed to do if you want to get a book out is to 'write a Query'. A query is the one page letter (OK. Yes. Or email ) a writer sends to an Agent they would like to represent them. Or would like to try to interest in representing them. Or would give their right arm, first born and eye-teeth to represent them.
Nurse! The red pill!
Phew. That's better .
Of course, these days I know that's not true - that you just go and write a Query - even though it is. There are a million other things too. But then? Well, this was 'once upon a time'. So I wrote one. A Query.
It. Was. Awful .
I had a pretty good idea it was awful - but I wanted a more professional, market savvy stamp of awful-ness. So I did some more research. And I found something. Or rather - someone. I found an Agent (no - I didn't 'find an Agent' like writers want to find an Agent. Calm down ) - who did (and does) just the sort of thing I was looking for.
I found the Query Shark.
I know. I can just hear you asking. 'The Query Shark? What's a Query Shark?'. Well - it isn't so much a what as a who. Because she's the one and only. The Query Shark is a Real Live Agent (Janet Reid of finePrint Literary) who offers the would be Query-er an amazing service. If - and it's a big if - you get really, really lucky, she'll take your Query. She'll take it - and tear it to shreds. In public.
But only if you get really, really lucky. Because it's not just one of the best ways to find out how to improve a Query - it's almost impossible to be the one she picks out of the thousands she gets to tear and shred. Because the Query Shark is inundated with people who want her to tear their Queries to shreds. To show them how to write better ones. Actually, she's equally inundated with people who think they've written one of the most amazing Queries ever - but who are about to find out they haven't . Either way - it's really hard to be one of those she picks to tear apart. So in February 2010 I sent Our Lady of Teeth my Really Bad Query. And, to try to get her attention, an introduction to the Query. Call it a Query -for the Query. You can read the whole sad, sorry tale here:
Suffice to say - I was right. It was a bad Query. It was, in fact, a truly terrible Query . But there was something else. Both Our Lady of Teeth and some of her responders liked the intro letter. The Query for the Query. And one response in particular bit me. It was this one:
"Could you please write your whole book in the voice you wrote your introduction? It would be an awesome fresh voice for all the melodramatic dragon fantasies in the world. I am tired of dragon-land, but I will buy a dragon book with that voice. I will promote it too, (with all the popularity I possess.)
Please begin with "First, if I may, allow me to introduce myself. I'm an idiot."
Then have a fight with a dragon that shows what an idiot your MC really is. I mean, who fights with dragons? Idiots."
I didn't know the good and wise Lady Liesl then. I know her better now. But - I admit it. 'A Comedy of Terrors', the book itself, started right there. If the Lava Tube was the deep ocean shiver that began it, Lady Liesl was it's first rising - the rising that must happen to any wave if it is to break.
Because I sat down with that first line - and I thought. And, being a pantster (that's someone who doesn't plot out everything that's going to happen in the book before they write a word - they start typing, and hold on for the ride ), I wrote a second line. And another...
This is where I'm supposed to say 'the rest is history'. But it isn't yet. Not really. Because it's still happening . By August 2010, I'd written some more lines. Written them, self-edited, passed them through alpha readers and beta (yes - there's a difference. No - I'm not saying what it is here. That's for another day ) - and I sent the Query shark another Query. I sent her this one:
And it appeared Lady Shark liked this one. Rather more than the last, at least. But.... well, but nobody else did. Because I sent the Query out into the world - the world of Agents - and none bit. Not a one. I started getting used to the Querying writer's two oldest friends - 'no reply means no', and 'Form Rejections' .
Which is not to say it was, or wasn't a good, or bad Query. Or that 'A Comedy of Terrors' was - or wasn't - a good or bad book. It was just - not for them. Because that's how it is with a potential Agent. They have to consider whether the book being offered is one that will actually sell - and whether it fires them up enough to make it something they can commit to for what will probably be well over a year. And this one? This one, it seemed - wasn't.
And that might have been that. Or I might still be sending it out to silence, or those Form Rejections. But - and if ever you want to succeed, there pretty much has to be a 'But' - I have a friend.
Yes. I'm looking at you, Lady Cheryl. So there . Because this friend, Lady Cheryl, she's hip to the groove. Even back then, she could feel the times a-changin'. And she suggested a number of times I try some of these new-fangled electronical publishing folks. And - cutting a lot of pointless resistance on my part short - eventually I listened to her. Because in July 2011 I sent the Query the Shark liked to MuseitUp Publishing. And in August 2011 - they offered me a contract. And yes. The rest really is history. Because on Thursday June 21st, 2012 - MuseitUp Publishing published 'A Comedy of Terrors'.
And there it is. 'Once upon a time...'. Dangerous words. Because, like Bilbo said, it's a dangerous thing setting foot outside your door. Or writing. Even just a page or two... .