This week marked the book birthdays for Video Night (two years old) and The Summer Job (one). I’ve been thinking about that.
Warning. Mushiness ahead:
Browsing Goodreads, cyberstalking myself as I’m wont to do, I came across a recent review for Video Night that maybe made me a little weepy. It’s a 4/5 star review, and it’s in no way one of those hyperbolic “oMg best book evar” kinds of reviews (although I’m cool with those and certainly enjoy receiving them, please go post any kind of review you want on amazon), but something about it struck me.
Here’s the review and here is the guy’s conclusion (his name’s Joshua P., he’s not someone I’m connected with on Facebook or twitter so I didn’t know if it would be cool to post his full name*):
“It would have been easy to just pile up the body-count and cast it with unlikable characters whose bellies we can’t wait to see burst by ungodly, spiny-backed monsters, but the author manages to believably render even minor characters with a warmth typically uncharacteristic of the genre. The movie references are also minimal and avoid the trap of becoming masturbatory and self-indulgent. VIDEO NIGHT may not be innovative, but its crafted with care and I look forward to reading more from this author.”
That’s an honest, fairly in-depth review from someone (I’m assuming) who found the book way after it was published. I mean, it’s not a blurb, no publisher would be cool with putting “not innovative” on the back cover. But in a lot of ways, if I weren’t biased, I think that paragraph would “sell” me on the book better than most blurbs.
Why did that review make me weepy? Well, a few reasons, I think. Video Night was not only my first full length novel published, it was the first long work I ever completed. Tribesmen was released first (in mid-2012), but it was written for John Skipp while VN was a final draft and sitting in Don D’Auria’s slush pile, waiting to be discovered.
I don’t know how it is for other writers, but for me that first book took a long ass time to gestate. Although I’d written a decent amount and had short stories published before starting my first novel, it was finishing Video Night, a book I had poured a lot of ideas and enthusiasm and youthful vigor into, that made me feel like a writer for the first time. That’s not to say that my work after has lacked enthusiasm, I think the majority of it is better in many ways, but I can honestly split my life into two halves: before and after Video Night. Everything I had stored up, from the movies and books I loved growing up to the movies and monsters I thought I was going to make before I caught the writing bug, it’s all in there. It was a weird exorcism of pent-up creativity, and I think that’s what makes it my “happiest” book.
There are those reasons and then there’s the clincher:
I don’t think about my backlist.
As someone who is trying to make an honest go of writing full-time, I’m only ever really concerned with three books. There’s the book I’m working on currently (this can, in fact, be multiple books, if I’m stupid and end up working on two projects at once), the book that was most recently released or is about to be released (for that one I’m doing social media hustling, trying to hunt down possible review outlets, doing guest posts and interviews), and the hypothetical book I could be writing (which has me sending out pitches and cold emails for freelance work, sending warm and re-heated replies to the editors kind enough to want to talk with me).
So, while Video Night was released a scant two years ago, I haven’t really thought about it with any depth or affection since I was promoting it in the beginning of 2013. It’s not that I don’t like it, I guess I love it, am so proud of it, but I do fall into the trap of often thinking of it as “less-than.” Why? Because those years since its release are two years that felt like five.
When I have a new release, I always default to that when I’m asked to recommend a starting point. That thinking’s two-pronged: my most recent work is frequently my favorite and I want to put my best foot forward for any prospective readers. And I also want sales momentum to continue, as my most recent work is usually the one doing best in sales (unless it’s Tribesmen, which is still doing consistent business even though it’s technically my oldest release, but most of the credit there goes to Matthew Revert’s beautiful new cover).
I’m not the greatest mathematician but by my calculation I’ve written nearly half a million (usable, publishable) words since I wrote the epilogue to my first novel. Spending that much time thinking about other work has a way of erasing the memory of the material that came before it.
To hear Joshua use the word “warmth” multiple times in his review triggered something in me, made me remember that “oh yeah, that was a pretty positive book, written with pretty positive, optimistic intentions.” And yes, I recognize the schmaltziness (an unpalatable amount for you, maybe, sorry) inherent in the author of a book that edges up against wallowing in nostalgia engaging in nostalgia for a book that’s only two years old, but whatever!
I struggled whether to put this up or not, it began as a throwaway Facebook post that grew too big. I see posts similar in tone pass through my newsfeed sometimes, and yeah they can feel self-congratulatory and possibly a bit foamy or even out of touch, but you know what? I’m proud of my work.
And not just the new stuff. It may have been a younger version of me writing VN, but I trust little me. If I thought it were inadequate I wouldn’t have sent it to a publisher (and if it wasn’t up to a certain level of quality that choice wouldn’t have been in my hands at all). It makes me so damn happy when people enjoy something I worked hard to make, when I see a post or get a private note from someone who liked what I did, wants to ask where they can get more, if there’s going to be a sequel (which is the most mindblowing, to me).
Does this post have a point or an arch? I don’t know, maybe. What do you say: when you’re checking out a writer for the first time do you go for their old titles or their new hotness? Or do you go with the critical consensus Or do you shop by subgenre and intuition? I guess I don’t know what I do, a bit of all the above.
Or maybe it would just be best to end with more warm and fuzzies, something to bring this full circle:
Yup. That’s my future backlist in this month’s Rue Morgue, a magazine I’m just young enough to have grown up reading and goddamn it now I’m getting mushy again…
*wrote this yesterday, woke up to find Joshua had followed me on twitter, so now we’re connected.
Man, you have accomplished a lot in two years. Two years is not a lot of time, but you’ve built a diverse and impressive back catalog. Imagine what it’s going to look like in 10? Can’t wait to see.
Thanks man. But that’s assuming I’m not taking the My My Hey Hey approach and burning out instead of fading away. In that case I’m halfway done with my career.