Essay–The Black: A Memoir of Sorts
Two years ago, The Black found its way into the marketplace. Those of you that listen to The Dead Robots’ Society have probably heard some of this already, but for the rest of you, let me tell you about The Black.
I didn’t think I’d ever sell a book on a pitch. For a so-called “unestablished author” whose indie published work hadn’t managed to gain a wide audience, selling a book with just a synopsis was unbelievable. So how the hell did it happen? You can blame my nemesis for that.
I’ve had two very bad run-ins with some rather unscrupulous publishers. I encountered the first in my early 20s, and the other just a few years ago. The first tried to screw money out of me. The second wanted my IP for no guaranteed cash. Those two incidents were enough to sour me on the entire idea of EVER talking to a publisher again. Enter the nemesis.
I have never made it a secret that I detest everything about Jake Bible. He’s a foul-mouthed, unintelligible dufus who is trying to ruin my life. If you go back through our twitter history, our competition for podcast fans during the audio-fiction heydays, and look for the buckets of blood we leave in one another’s wakes, then you’ll see what I mean.
Jake is the author of the Apex Trilogy, the Z-Burbia series, the Mega series (you seeing a trend here?), and a ton of other books. Unfortunately, they’re awesome. Why? Because Jake is a great writer, even if he is a very bad person. Despite the fact he’s so evil, he told me about his publisher and that perhaps they’d be interested in Closet Treats.
They were, but wanted another book too. Something new. Something like a deep-sea thriller, or a story about “the end of the world as we know it.” I was terrified. I had to come up with a pitch for something I’d never considered writing, let alone imagining. Screwed. I was screwed. Here was a great opportunity and I was going to miss it.
So what happened? I talked to my co-hosts at DRS, Terry Mixon and Justin Macumber. Both are excellent writers in their own right (GO BUY THEIR BOOKS!) and brainstorming is one of their many shared talents. I floated a list of pitches I had that sucked or had been rejected. One of the stories I’d thought about writing many years ago involved a zombie outbreak at Huntsville State Prison. That’s when it happened.
Someone suggested the prison become an oil rig. And instead of a zombie outbreak, what about something coming out of one of the wells?
Something? What something?
THE OIL IS THE GODDAMNED SOMETHING!
It was perverse. It was ridiculous. It was incredibly fun. And as we continued talking, we kept adding more details to the deadly oil. I kept the ones I wanted, and threw the rest away. Why? Because my brain had already put together something awesome. Something so cheesy, it belonged on a goddamned Saturday Monster Movie Marathon from the 50s. But I had to make it unique in its own right. How do I do that? Oh, yes, that’s where shit got interesting.
After I left that conversation, I spent four hours researching deep sea exploration. I spoke with my father, the chemical engineer. I looked at new technologies. I tried to remember all the “this is no shit” stories told by all the rig workers I’d ever met. I scrounged every bit of futurism I could bring to an industry that most Americans do not understand. Make the setting interesting. Make the people gritty, dirty, and as real as possible. Throw in a heap of personality conflicts between engineers and rig-workers. Stir at a high boil and watch it go up like Deep Water Horizon. Oh, fuck yes, this is going to be a blast!
The result was a pitch that I sent to Jake. He bird-dogged it and then I sent it off to Severed Press. I can’t remember how long I spent waiting for a reply, but it didn’t take long at all. After receiving the contract, I studied it, was happy with it, and signed it. The next morning? I started writing.
It took only two and a half months for me to finish the first draft. Another month for edits. And on September 15th, 2014, The Black hit the digital shelves. Two things became quickly apparent. The first being that I’d left a major plot hole–the story of what happened to Houston after the rig sent the black oil for analysis. Shit. I had to write another book. The other? I had a hit on my hands.
Severed Press welcomed a sidequel with open arms and thus, The Black: Arrival was born. Which led to yet another plot hole which led to The Black: Outbreak.
The series has changed my life in many ways. I feel I’ve vastly improved my ability to tell stories and make interesting people. I also discovered I can write plot-driven stories in addition to my usual character-driven ones. I’m now a full-time writer because this series launched me from relative obscurity to “almost” visibility. I finally won the Parsec Award I’ve been chasing for so many years.
All due to an introduction from my mortal foe, brainstorming with my friends Justin and Terry, a little research, and talks with my father.
That’s how I became an overnight success after writing off and on for 32 years.
What is The Black?
Something that defies our understanding of biology, chemistry, and physics. Something that shouldn’t exist in our universe. Something that puts humanity back where it belongs–lower in the food chain. Will we ever find out what it really is?
This is the part of the essay where I simply repeat “hehehehehe” over and over. Just pretend I did it–it’ll be less annoying. The Black: Evolution will be the conclusion to the series. I’m presently burned out on my deadly creation, so I’m putting it off for a nice vacation in space where I’m going to introduce you to a completely new and different terror. And remember: in space, no one can hear you scream.
Thanks to all my listeners, readers, and patrons for making this career possible. And special thanks to my nemesis, Jake Bible*.
* Jake Bible is actually a great guy and while we play enemies on social media, don’t believe a word of it. Even if he is a no-good, eggplant-violating vegan. Go check out his books. Do it NOW!