First Book Friday: Peter V. Brett

Welcome to First Book Friday!

Peter V. Brett is a fellow JABberwockian, and was a special guest of honor at ConFusion earlier this year.  I could tell you more about him, or you could check out his character sheet.  Yes, Brett created a D&D character sheet for himself.  (He’s a neutral good seventh level human Bard.)  In other words, Brett is my kind of geek 🙂

His novel The Desert Spear [Amazon | B&N | Mysterious Galaxy] will be out in paperback in the U.S. soon.


If you love reading, odds are you have a special book. Your first book.

No, not Hop on Pop. I’m talking about the first book, sans pictures, that you picked up and read of your own free will and spare time. The book that opened your eyes to the wonder of reading for pleasure. Some of you still have that book on your shelf, while others remember it wistfully like a long-lost friend, vanished at a garage sale even though you knew in your heart it was worth more than the $.50 sticker your mom put on it.

For me, that book was The Hobbit, by JRR Tolkien. When I finished reading it, I knew two things. 1) I wanted to be a writer, and 2) I wanted to write fantasy.

I wrote my first novel when I was seventeen. It was called An Unlikely Champion, and it was a fantasy/science fiction hybrid story, like Star Wars. It was also quite possibly the worst book ever written, and I never even dreamed of trying to sell it.

But I learned a lot writing it, and applied that to the next book I wrote.

And the next one.

And the next one.

It was that fourth book, The Warded Man [Amazon | B&N | Mysterious Galaxy], that first got the attention of my agent, Joshua Bilmes. He was intrigued by the dark, low magic world I had created, where demons come out at night. But he also pointed out some major flaws in the story that needed fixing. As a result, I ended up throwing out about 60% of the book, and writing the new sections from scratch.

The problem was that at this point, my “real” life was in full gear. I was recently married, and a new homeowner. I had a promising career in medical publishing, and friends and family to spend time with. There was never time to write, and when I griped about that, people didn’t seem to understand. Writing was just a hobby… wasn’t it?

I decided it wasn’t. It was a priority, and I needed to find a way to get it done.

I live in Brooklyn, and was commuting every day to my job in Times Square. On a good day, it was about 45 minutes on the subway each way. On a bad day, it could take two hours each way. Such is the capricious will of the subway gods.

I decided to try and make that time productive. I bought an HP iPaq smartphone with a big screen and a nice wide QWERTY keyboard. It came with a word processor that could easily sync to and from my desktop computer.

From the year, I wrote almost every day during my commute, listening to my iPod and thumb-writing on the phone. It was awkward at first, but I was stubborn, and as the weeks went by I got faster and faster. I began to make real progress, free from the distractions of the internet, e-mail, and phone calls. I was averaging 800 words a day.

I completed the second draft of The Warded Man in the first year, and started the sequel, The Desert Spear, while the first book went to market, all on the phone. I was close to halfway done with the second book when the series sold and I began to write full time from home, finally fulfilling the dream that had started so many years ago.

I still have that copy of The Hobbit on my shelf. It is a beaten up third paperback printing, missing half its cover, and bound together with so many pieces of tape that it might as well be laminated. It is also the most valuable book I own. The one I’d grab if there was a fire.

Sometimes I wonder if my whole life would be different if the first book I picked up had been horror or a mystery, a western, or science fiction. Might my imagination have taken off in a different direction, or would I have gravitated towards fantasy anyway? I guess I’ll never know.