The Devil’s Workshop
Well, The Devil’s Workshop has been published. I feel it’s a weight off my shoulders. I had to publish it independently because the publishing business is brain dead and wanted nothing to do with it. I sent query letters to sixty or seventy agents and not a single one wanted to read it. I don’t think it’s my cluelessness at crafting a query that was at fault, but a first novel of 155,000 words – no thanks. I had the delusion that somewhere or other there might be some agent or publisher who would at least read it, but I was mistaken. I don’t hold any animus against the publishing business. I think publishing professionals have been driven insane by the sheer amount of bullshit they get barraged with every day. If you take a look at Inkitt or sites like that, you can get an idea of the stuff that’s being submitted. But it’s too bad they seem to have crumpled under the weight of all that dreck, and have given up even the notion of trying to publish something that might matter to an intelligent adult. What they are looking for is professional fiction. I know what that is and I don’t really enjoy reading it. I’m glad to say my book is not written in a very professional way. Throughout my life I’ve read constantly and very widely and have developed a taste for what literature can do. I hadn’t been having much success finding anything to read, so I finally decided I should write something myself. I knew just the sort of book I wanted. I’d never written a novel before, but once I got going I found I knew my way around the business of creating one.
I’ve written things sporadically on and off all my life. I’m very grateful that the plays and stories I’ve written and sent out have been practically universally rejected. It has allowed me the chance to grow and mature at my own rate and I have not fallen prey to the publishing business. Once I realized that no matter what I did nothing I wrote was ever going to be accepted I was freed from having to write like a pro, from ‘honing my craft,’ and set loose to be an artist. I wrote for the sheer joy of writing. It was completely play, not work. But wasn’t I sloppy and self-indulgent, you ask? Sloppy, no. I was very hard on myself, much harder than on the works of others I’d meet in writing groups. I didn’t let myself get away with anything. And self-indulgent? Why did I think that was a problem? Oh, and by the way, I think the grapes actually are sour.
When I started this book, I had no plan what I was going to write, but I felt inspired and I gave it a beginning I thought was a good hook: two men burying a body in the woods in the middle of the night. Then I wrote my scene of lovers parting, which set up the premise of the book: the lovers were going to have to come back together. But I knew that wouldn’t be happening till about chapter twenty-eight or somewhere around there, and I needed something to fill up all the chapters in between. So I gave myself three subplots: the pirates, the Indians and the slaves. Right there, I made a mistake a pro would never make. A main plot and three interlaced subplots? Who would give himself such a challenge? I had no idea so I just went about doing it.
My idea about the three different groups was based on something I’d read in Montesquieu about three types of government. The pirates were a tyranny ruled by fear. The Indians were an aristocracy ruled by honor. And the slaves were a democracy ruled by the will of the people. I thought it would be fun to see how these groups worked in action. So then I just kicked off my plots and found my way from there.
I didn’t really get my legs underneath me till I came to write chapter six. Sometime around this point I discovered a guy sitting in the back of my head whom I called the author. And I was starting to let the author call the shots. I realized he was made from all the writers I’d ever read and loved. He had the humor of Cervantes, the plotting skills of Fielding, the lunatic digressiveness of Sterne, the savage wit of Swift, the majesty of Melville, the spiritual wisdom of Tolstoy and the psychological insight of Dostoyevsky. Of course I was just a stupid writer and I had none of that, but this guy had already told all the stories in the world and he remembered how he’d done it. So I left things up to him. When it came to chapter six he told me the chapter should end with Tom falling off the boat. I had no idea what was going to happen to my leading man, but I did what the author said. Of course it all worked out because then I discovered the leviathan, and inside the leviathan was Colophus, and I was off and running.
That was it really. After that point I felt like I was in good hands. It felt like the author was remembering this awesome tale and I was just writing it down. Every now and then it seemed there was a bit the author couldn’t remember, so sometimes I had to step in and make some stuff up, but those passages always ended up getting cut in revision.
Things went along smoothly till I came to chapter twenty. When I started the book I decided to set it in a made up land so I wouldn’t have to do any research. But here I knew I was going to have to describe a battle in a forest, and I had no clue how to do that. So I had to do some research. I did research on the Battle of Teutoburg Forest. I’d read some about it in Tacitus and it seemed to fit, so I modeled my battle on it. But for the first time, the writing was feeling like work, not play. I wrote an enormous battle scene, using all my research. I later went back and took out eight pages of it, leaving only the crucial information. But at the end, having written that, I was feeling tired and just for a whim I decided I’d write something really fantastical that the author wouldn’t be able to work into the plot. So, knowing I was always free to cross it all out, I wrote the scene of Lieutenant Lovejoy’s wild ride into some mystical place where snow was falling. Like I said, I was certain I’d just be crossing all that out later, because there was no way it could fit in. But then it did, and I was able to bring together all the Son of Light business, which I’d never felt really comfortable about from the start, and finish that off.
And then I was left with finishing the book. I think it had no choice but to end the way it did. No spoilers here, but I wrote the scene with Tavish and May to see if it could possibly end differently, but it couldn’t. That scene just ended up reenacting in summary the whole story of Tavish and Katie.
So I was done. It had been two years, but it had been an intoxicating, exhilarating two years, living in this story. I spent six months in revision and I was ready to send it off. And that’s when I encountered the publishing business, as described at the beginning. The book had its hooks in me at this point, and it wasn’t going to let me go without getting it published. During this space of time I also retired from my job, had back surgery, sold my house and moved to Florida, but all of that stuff somehow doesn’t seem as real to me as the goings on on the Coast.
I was very fortunate to find Dario Ciriello, who was my Virgil through the Inferno of getting it published. I realized I was going to need an editor, someone with some experience to guide me. I looked at several editors. I found Dario because I liked a blog post he’d written and sensed a fellow spirit. I hired him to read the book and he was the first (apart from myself) to think there was something in it. He helped me along and kept me on the path a couple of times when I might have stumbled and given up. I needed a graphic artist to do the cover and the map and found one literally across the street. Candace April Lee was the daughter of the couple who lived opposite my house on Brookstone Circle. I could remember when she’d been born and I’d seen her growing up. She is now a young graphic artist. I looked at some work she’d done and thought it was very good. So I had her to create the brilliant cover.
Anyway, it’s been a long haul and I’m glad it’s worked out the way it has. I hope you all enjoy the book.