Saturday, March 12, 2005

My new life as a full-time writer

Hi! My name is David Forbes and I have just transitioned from a full-time career in the banking industry (a little more on this later) to a career as a full-time fantasy writer. I'm under contract for three novels with Eos, the science fiction and fantasy imprint of HarperCollins, but they have not yet been published. I plan to use this blog to chart the course of the publication process -- it's ups, downs, what goes smoothly and what doesn't, and how I manage all of the things about which I have no clue -- for the benefit of both myself in understanding how this all works, and to grant some insight for those struggling writers who are not yet published into what they can expect when they finally get the call that, yes! their manuscript has been accepted.

So how did I get here?

I've wanted to write since I was in high school (I'm now 39). So it's been a long struggle for me. I certainly expected to be published long before now, but other than a single short story printed in a regional literary magazine, I wasn't able to get in the door. I got some handwritten rejection slips every now and then encouraging me to keep writing (Algis Budrys, in particular, seemed to like my stories, though he never bought any of them!). I'd hear that what I'd submitted was good but not what they were looking for at the moment, or it was almost but not quite right for them (though they also never told me what I could do to make it right), etc., etc.

In the late '90s I acquired representation with a New York agent (who shall remain nameless) for a now-discarded novel called The Wizard's Gift. He gave me lots of good advice on it, I spent a long time reworking it, and finally he sent it out to the major fantasy publishing houses. Once again I got some good feedback (a few places asked specifically to see the next book I wrote), but everyone passed on it. It was incredibly disappointing, but I wasn't going to be deterred, so I started with a new novel from scratch.

This one was huge -- the first draft was 274,000 words and took me two-and-a-half years to write, called The Amber Wizard. My agent hated it. We went back and forth about what he didn't like, but what it boiled down to -- at least from my point of view -- was that he didn't like the kind of fantasy I was writing. He kept trying to get me to write like other writers in his stable, most of whom I didn't really care for. Not that they were bad, but they simply didn't write the kind of fantasy I wanted to write. I was after a large-scale, multi-character epics like Tad Williams' Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn, and George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire books. Martin's books weren't out when I started my own work, but when I read them it was liked getting gobsmacked in the head: Yes, this is the kind of thing I want to do! (For the record, no, I'm not comparing myself to either of them, but they are writing the serious, ambitious works that I am going for.)

That agent and I had a parting of the ways. My assertion that our disagreements were more about literary taste than story content annoyed the living shit out of him, but I still think I was right.

The book that got me the contract with HarperCollins was The Amber Wizard, extensively re-written (down to 194,000 words), but it's much closer to what I have always intended it to be than what my previous agent wanted me to turn it into. It's the first of a four-book series that chronicles, in a fantasy setting, the shift from polytheism to henotheism to monotheism before and during the rise of a divine Adversary who is believed to be the enemy of the One God whose new religion is sweeping across the world.

The moral of the story: If you find an agent who wants you to write stuff you don't like, or doesn't get at all what you're trying to do, move on. As painful as that will be -- because I know how hard it is to find one agent in the first place, let alone a second one -- you just can't write something you're not interested in (at least I can't).

Next post: some background on my life before I started writing full-time (which officially began on Tuesday, February 15, 2005). I had a full-time job, a wife, a house, a young son, and some semblance of a life. Where did I find the time to write? And how did I find agent number two?


Chris Russo said...

Hey, congrats on making the big time. I grew up in Mechanicsburg and it's great to hear about a writer coming from there. Did you go to school in Mechanicsburg? I graduated in 88, a little after your time.

I'm an aspiring writer myself-no novels but spec fic short stories, which I'm addicted to reading.

Having said that, it may seem a bit contradictory to recommend some novels that you might like. At any rate, when I read that you like large scale, multi character novels, I thought you might like Gene Wolfe's New Sun books. Technically, they're sci fi, as their setting is a far, far future earth. But Wolfe uses religious symbolism, magic, and a great style to make it seem more like a fantasy novel.

Anyway, keep up with the writing and the blog. I'll keep an eye out for your book. Will you be doing a release event in Harrisburg or Carlisle?

Rachel Ohl said...

I hope you don't mind, but I've put a link to your blog at my own website on my journal entry for March 15, 2005. It's Not quite as nice as yours yet (I'm still learning HTML), but it's mine. I appreciate your blog as it encourages me to write daily and keep my own website updated with journal entries. Thanks!

Interestingly enough, I come from the financial sales world too. What's that about? I think maybe there are more than a few frustrated artists in that field, and only a few that break out! Good for us that do!!! So keep writing and blogging... I'm interested to read more.

I'm from Pennsylvania too. The Lancaster area. I'd be interested to come to any promotional events in the general central PA area if there are any... keep us posted!

Also, my mother is writing a series of novels for young readers and would love any advice I can pass along to her about your experience. I will forward your blog link to her as well. I've already forwarded it to my sister (yes, my whole family is a bunch of writers) and she loved it.

Me? I'm writing my memoir and after that I might work on my collection of essays and poems, who knows? Thanks again!

Sideon said...

Hello, from California.

A friend who's a big James Clemens fan referred me to the Amber site, which led me to your blog, a lot of reading, and to here.

Your chronicles of writing and the publication process are an absolute treasure. I have bookmarked your site, but would like your permission to add a link to my blog?