Welcome to First Book Friday.
For several days now, I’ve been trying to figure out how to introduce Anton Strout (antonstrout on LJ). I keep coming back to, “He’s just Anton.” He signs goofy bookplates. He cofounded werejaguarpunk with me. He does booksignings with Amber Benson. He usually wears pants.
He also writes fun urban fantasies, the fourth of which (Dead Waters [Amazon | B&N | Mysterious Galaxy]) is starting to show up in bookstores. I posted a review of his first book here, but before you read that, check out Anton’s tale of how he wrote that first book. And then give him a hard time in the comments. He deserves it. Because, you know, he’s just Anton.
I’m four books into the Simon Canderous series now, but writing the first, Dead To Me [Amazon | B&N | Mysterious Galaxy], was a far different experience that writing the later ones, because at that time I was untested as a writer. Writing the first of anything is a scary, pants-wetting time. I didn’t have contractual deadlines to make, never knew if the book would find a home, and my only motivations to write were simply proving to myself that my love of Ghostbusters, Hellboy, and Buffy counted for something.
I had written one previous unpublished book with The Dorks of the Round Table, my writing group that consisted of now-published authors Jeanine Cummins and Carolyn Turgeon. That book was a serial killer techno-thriller, and once I was done it went into a drawer, and should never again see the light of day. Next, I started on an idea about a guy with magic hands that kept him removed from others, ruining all his relationships. Thus began the adventures of Simon Canderous.
One by one the Dorks of the Round Table joined a workshop run by contemporary fiction author Jennifer Belle. It wasn’t a genre specific one, but I joined because I wanted to be around others working on good writing. I was glad to be in such a non-genre group, even if I got strange looks from time to time when I would bring in something like a combat scene between Simon and an enchanted, homicidal bookcase.
I was about a hundred pages into the first draft of Dead To Me, and the first thing they pointed out was that it would work much better in first person. Converting it was a far more annoying task that it sounds, but well worth the effort as I think it strengthened the emotional connection to Simon for readers.
As to how I sold the book, well … my day job happened to be in Sales for Penguin Group, so I also knew a lot of editors. I asked a friend from Ace/Roc to take a no-strings-attached look at my manuscript, just to tell me if I was going in the right direction. I gave her every opportunity to say no, but she said she’d be happy to.
Then nine months passed. In author time, that’s 72.9 years. I used that time to work on new ideas. It was that, or go mad … well, madder, anyway.
So cut to a day job meeting then with another fantasy imprint. They started talking about how they really want to find a new urban fantasy talent to grow, and I had to bite my lip to keep from calling out “Me, me, me!” I then asked my friend at Ace if they minded if I send my manuscript to this other imprint. She told me to give her the weekend to finish looking over my work. That Monday she came back to me, wanting the first two books in the series! Woot!
The strange thing I sometimes hear people say is, “Oh, he had an in … that’s why he’s published.” I’ve always found that strange. I mean, the people at Ace have to work with me every day in a regular job capacity, so they better be twice as in love with my work if they buy a book from me, right?
I think the important things I did was what anyone else submitting a manuscript should do — be professional in my querying, put my best work forward, and learn how to write while you wait. Tom Petty was right … the waiting is the hardest part.