The Journey Home: The Making of What Once Was Home

Part Three: Slightly Sidetracked

In Part Two: What am I Doing?, I had started writing What Once Was Home. My military science fiction novel had become primarily a post-apocalyptic one, and then some elements of a western popped up. I had to take a break…

So, I set it aside. I had been working on the book every day without a day off for about two months. I liked what was happening, but I figured I needed to step back for a minute and come back with a fresh perspective to make sure I wasn’t going completely off the rails. Anyway, I had other ideas floating around that I wanted to play with. It was a Friday morning, so I figured I could take the weekend off from the novel and mess around with a side project.

One of my favorite series of books growing up was the Thieves’ World series, created and edited by Robert Lynn Aprin. The series is a collection of twelve anthologies published between 1978 and 1989, two more anthologies published in 2002 and 2004, and about twelve novels that spun out of the original anthologies. The series is set in a city called Sanctuary, where the downtrodden struggle to survive. Thieves, obviously from the title, make up the main cast of characters. Rogues and scoundrels are the heroes in Sanctuary.

Then there’s the work of Fritz Leiber, heralded as the founder of the sword and sorcery genre. His Swords series (also known as the Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser series)—a collection of six anthologies and one novel published between 1958 and 1988—was also one of my favorites growing up. Lankhmar: City of Adventure was a Dungeons and Dragons campaign setting inspired by that series, and I spent untold hours pouring over the maps and sourcebooks to learn all I could about the city of Lankhmar.

I wanted to write my own historic urban fantasy. Not “urban fantasy” like the YA crowd refers to it, with its sparkly vampires and lovesick teenagers in a contemporary setting, but the original meaning of “urban fantasy”: a fantasy tale set primarily within an urban environment. This would have thieves and swords. I wanted it to be a dark fantasy as well, full of shadowy threats and a gothic horror atmosphere. This would be a great break from my post-apocalyptic military science fiction western!

So, I sat down to tell the tale of Gareth, a roguish thief plying his trade in the harbor city of Seahaven. He would have a run in with some vampires (not sparkly ones) that would not only unveil a darker side to the setting, but also change his life forever. By the end of the day, I had written 15,000 words. The next morning, I wrote another 5,000 words and finished my first novella: Seahaven. After some time sprucing it up and editing out the kinks, I put together a cover and sent it out into the world via the route of self-publishing.

I went on to write sequels to Seahaven: The Hunter’s Apprentice and The Giant and the Fishes. After that, I had a bunch of short story ideas, so I threw together an anthology in honor of those great collections of old: Tales From the Lusty Mermaid.

Shortly after this, I met up with some writing associates and we started our own small press. I worked primarily as the acquisitions editor at first, and evolved into taking on more roles, which chewed up a lot of time. I also was the editor in chief of a speculative fiction journal called The Kyanite Press, inspired by the pulp fiction magazines of old, which was a dream come true. Among all this, I still found time to work on a cyberpunk hardboiled detective novella called Night Shift, in which a routine murder case sets a detective on a trail of clues and suspects that unravels a conspiracy involving the Russian mob and the city government. I also squeezed in writing Warriors of Understone, a heroic fantasy novella set entirely in a dwarven city.

What Once Was Home was still waiting for me to get back to it. There was a lot of work left to be done to get it finished. It had been sitting for almost a year. I learned and grew so much as an author and editor in that time. I was almost afraid to go back to it.

But still… I felt this was my magnum opus. As proud as I was of my other books, I knew it was time to get back to work on it.

Click here for Part Four: Back in the Saddle, to find out what it was like to pick the novel back up after a year.

Find out more about What Once Was Home here.