So for the past several months, I’ve been sharing the story of how I went from a wannabe author to a published author. I’ve talked about my earliest, thankfully now lost projects and where my published books have come from. We’re almost to the end of our journey (at least as of this moment in time), but we have one more book to talk about, namely The Hive.
How did I come up with the idea? Well, sometime after I finished writing Numb, I decided I wanted to write a sequel. By that point, I had started drifting into young adult territory (what with Failstate and his cohorts). I figured my next story should be in that general area as well, and so, for whatever reason, I decided I wanted to tackle the subject of unintended pregnancies. In Numb, I had mentioned something about a cybernetic mercenary in one scene. That idea sparked more: what if there was a race of cyborgs that rented themselves out as incubators for designer children? What if one of their number became pregnant when she wasn’t supposed to? What would happen if she got separated from her people after becoming pregnant and had to try to find her way home again?
Shortly thereafter, The Hive was born.
I tried pitching this one at an ACFW Conference one year and apparently, I made quite the splash with some people. One editor in particular told other participants how she had heard a pitch for a “pregnant teenage cyborg” story, and the rumors started circulating, so much so that I actually wrote, “Yes, I am the pregnant teenage cyborg” on my conference name tag, not really thinking what that might look like to normal people.
But after the book was written, it got shelved. I got caught up in working on the sequels to Failstate, and so I didn’t have time for the pregnant teenage cyborg and her story.
That changed when Numb became a finalist for the Christy Awards.
I actually wrote about the entire experience on the Speculative Faith website. I’m reproducing that article below:
So last month, I spent a Monday night seated in front of my computer. My wife would tell you that this, in and of itself, is not unusual. But that particular night, I was watching the liveblog for the Christy Awards. As some of you may know, my book, Numb, was up for a Christy in the Visionary category and I was waiting to find out what happened. Last year, when my debut novel, Failstate, was up for a Christy, I made the trek down to St. Louis for the awards ceremony. This year, due to finances and scheduling concerns, I wasn’t able to go. But I did want to find out what happened.
I knew I faced some stiff competition in Patrick Carr’s A Cast of Stones and Anne Elisabeth Stengl’s Dragonwitch. Personally, my money was on Patrick’s book. That isn’t a knock on Anne’s work; there’s a reason why she won this year. But even though I had a pretty good idea that my name would not be called at the awards ceremony, I still had to write an acceptance speech just in case!
Don’t worry, I’m not going to whip it out and force you to read it.
I will say, though, that this proved to be a bit of a challenge. If you haven’t noticed by now, I have a bit of a self-deprecating, sardonic sense of humor that kind of bubbles up in a lot of what I write. But I was worried that if I tried to include that in my speech, it would come off wrong, especially since someone else would have to read it for me. In the end, I stuck to a very short speech that hit the necessary points.
But now I faced a new challenge: who would read the speech on my behalf should the extremely unlikely occur?
My first thought was to ask my intrepid agent, Amanda Luedeke, to do the honors. But, it turns out, she wasn’t going to be there. So my next choice was Steve Laube, the current owner and publisher of
Marcher Lord Press…er, Enclave Publishing. It makes sense. Numb is a part of his offerings and he would be there. Steve graciously agreed.
And so that Monday night, I waited. I waited, and tried very hard not to laugh myself silly.
See, the closer the time came to find out who would take home the honors, the more a sense of absurd irony overwhelmed me. And to explain why, I need to rewind about five years and tell you about the nicest rejection letter I ever received.
Five years ago, I was still pounding on doors, trying to find someone who would check out my books. I was attending ACFW conferences to meet with editors and agents, hoping that one of them would give me a chance. Five years ago, I was pitching this little science fiction story I had created, a book called Numb. And, much to my delight, the project got a nibble, a request to see the full manuscript. After putting one final polish on it, I sent it off with a prayer and my fingers crossed.
A month later, I received this:
Thank you for sending us your proposal for our review. While your project exhibits merit it is not quite what we are looking for at this time.
This is a clever story. It may be that you should seek the services of a general market agent who can put your stories in front of the editors of DAW or Ace or DelRey with more success.
The reviews came back with the comment of “overwritten.” I think the comment has some merit. It feels like you are trying too hard.
Note the pages I returned with the name “Crusader” circled. This is a craft issue and is highlighted because of his unusual name. But repeating it so often on page three is a problem. Also note that Crusader has dropped, slunk, pressed, dove, calmly spun, waited, emerged, surveyed and peeked…all on one page.
The immense number of proposals we receive, our full client list, and the intense nature of the competition in the marketplace causes us to be highly selective.
Up until that point, I had only received generic “no thank yous” when submitting materials. This was the first rejection letter with a personal message, and a somewhat positive one at that. In spite of the (admittedly spot on) criticism of the overwritten nature, this one rejection letter gave me enough hope to keep trying, specifically with a story about a teenage superhero competing on a reality TV show.
So who was it who sent me this? Why, none other than Steve Laube, the very man who could possibly be accepting a Christy Award for the book he rejected.
Bizarre. Ironic. Deliciously ridiculous. Delishculous? Can I trademark that one?
Now I’m not sharing this with you to embarrass Steve in any way. Like I said, I understand why he rejected Numb when he did. He was right to do it. It wasn’t ready yet. I hadn’t learned enough. That’s probably still true.
But if you had told me five years ago that I’d be reading a Live Blog, waiting to see if the book that had once been rejected would win an award, one that would be accepted by the guy who did the rejecting in the first place, I’d have laughed in your face. Obviously, though, God had different plans.
I once had a bumper sticker on my car that read, “If you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans.” I normally don’t try to derive my theology from pithy statements on the back of a rusty bumper, but this one is true. We often get it into our heads that things are going to be one way when God intends to have it a different way. And when His plans unfold, sometimes the only thing you can do is laugh along with Him.
So after writing the above article, I was contacted by Steve Laube. He had stumbled across this article and he found the entire situation incredibly ironic as well. We shared a chuckle with each other via email and then he asked me if I had any other books that I wanted to talk to him about.
Remembering my pregnant teenage cyborg, I pitched him the story idea.
Much to my surprise, he loved it. He didn’t just love it. He immediately had an idea for what the cover should look like. And the cover it got is pretty much what he pictured:
And that’s all it took: a pitch after an ironic moment, inspiration for a fantastic cover. And viola! My fifth published book.
I still find myself amazed at where this journey has taken me. I’m hoping it’s not done yet (even though, at the time of this writing, I have no books in any production tube of any kind). But God has brought me to some amazing places with my writing. I can’t wait to see what He has in store for me next.
I’ve enjoyed the series, John, partially because I’ve enjoyed all five of your novels, and am disappointed nothing is in the pipeline.
I’ll tell you something I found amusing, though. I read The Hive before I read Numb. And there were a few segments in Numb that I found more interesting because they were not really developed in Numb but were key parts in the Hive. For example, the Cyborg in Numb separated from the Hive would have had me saying “Okay” had I read the books in order. Same with the Positional Matriarchs. And then, there was the brief appearance of the Revered Hand who had some health problems that didn’t really factor in to Numb but was a part of the Hive.
Thank you for writing these great books, and looking forward to the next Pipeline entry.
By the way, John, I hope you don’t mind a question, but was “Who’d Be Dumb Enough To Try It” covered in your Geek Confessional? Curious, because three authors I’ve read and enjoyed are included in it (you, Kerry Nietz, and Morgan Busse).
I’ve enjoyed your books in the FAILSTATE series so much and HIVE was awesome, though I didn’t know it was a sequel! I haven’t read NUMB yet, but I will definitely be reading it soon. I laughed out loud about the name tag! I can SO see you doing that since it would seem to be a great marketing tactic. I thought putting 10 of my main fighting characters on my Cover was a great marketing tactic too, but people keep thinking my 124,395-word Novel is a “Graphic Novel”. I posted about that earlier on my Facebook. Sometimes the best laid plans of mice makes all that jazz seem cool O__O Well, yanno what I mean. I’ve learned a lot from your journey. Thanks, Writer Bro! “May Tenrai Daystar shine down on you with blessings beyond sublime dreams!” Eirinthian Blessing by Tonja Condray Klein(c)2009-17 ~ TCK ~ http://www.eirinth.com