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, reminiscent of the Ravenloft series of novels—which was also a campaign setting for Dungeons and Dragons. This would be a great break from my post-apocalyptic military science fiction western!

So, I sat down and started telling 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.

That science fiction novel was still on the shelf. The next week I wrote the sequel to Seahaven: The Hunter’s Apprentice. Gareth took the young Miles, a side character from the first book, and taught him the ways of the thief and monster hunter. This time there was a necromancer plaguing the city and creating zombies. The cast grew, and one in particular stood out: Fergus, an enormous ex-pirate who was also the innkeeper at The Two Fishes tavern.

So, the next week I wrote The Giant and the Fishes, the story of how Fergus went from being a blacksmith’s son to a pirate; and then from a pirate to an innkeeper. After that I had a bunch of short story ideas, so I threw together my own anthology in honor of those great collections of old: Tales From the Lusty Mermaid.

I had three novellas and an anthology out in the world, other ideas brewing, and was loving life. Still, What Once Was Home sat on the shelf.

Things went well enough. Reviews of the books were sparse but almost unanimously positive. I wasn’t making much money to speak of, but people were liking my books. I was encouraged. I had my own SERIES, just like Thieves’ World and Swords: The Ravencrest Chronicles had been born, and I was stuck in.

It was around the time I was working on a new novella in a new series (Warriors of Understone, book one of The Tales of Durgan Stoutheart), that I met Sam Hendricks. She was starting up a book review site for indie books and was looking for partners. I figured I’d throw my hat in and get some more exposure, and I was thrilled when she chose me and another author: Sophia LeRoux.

As we built and organized the new website, we bonded over our love of speculative fiction. We had a lot of other things in common too—from our backgrounds in customer service, project management, financial analysis, and sales to our shared love of reading, writing, and editing books.

It didn’t take long for us to realize we had the same dream: create our own small press and discover and publish stories. We planned, plotted, and worked what felt like 24-hour days until Kyanite Publishing was born.

At the same time, we also launched a literary journal called the Kyanite Press inspired by the old pulp fiction magazines that I so adore. I don’t know how I did it all, but I handled acquisitions and a ton of other projects for our publishing company, edited the Press, and wrote a cyberpunk crime mystery novella called Night Shift. In this, a routine murder case sets detective Harold Peterson on a trail of clues and suspects that begins to unravel a conspiracy involving the Russian mob and the city government.

Meanwhile, Sam directed all the business, operations, production, and sales. One of the hardest workers I know, she also edited up The Ravencrest Chronicles and really made them shine. We got new covers made, and we even did an omnibus collecting all four of them together. We sent them back out into the world and the reception was even more amazing than the first time around. I also finished Warriors of Understone, and I started planning out a lot more novellas and a few novels.

What Once Was Home was on the release schedule. There was still a lot of work left to be done to get it out on time. It had been sitting there for almost a year. I had learned and grown 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 “great American novel.” As proud as I was of my other books, I knew this was my magnum opus. 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.