Writing a novel is the marathon to the comic script’s 100-yard dash. Actually, that metaphor’s not completely accurate – let’s say a comic is more like running a 5K. I’ve written two novels – a historical fantasy set in 400 AD China called The Land of Ten Thousand Things, and a sort of genre thriller set in present day NYC entitled The Oracle Year. Both were written before I dove into comics writing in a serious way, and both sit on my hard drive, not doing anyone a bit of good (although I did learn an enormous amount from both projects.)
Back at C2E2 in Chicago this past year, a friend suggested that I chat with another author, David Liss. David is a writer of historical fiction himself, with several novels under his belt. He also writes comics, with a growing list of titles for Marvel, including Mystery Men and the latest Black Panther book. David and I hit it off a bit – he checked out 27, I checked out his work, and he was kind enough to send me a copy of his novel The Whiskey Rebels. I jumped into it a few days ago, and holy crap is it good. It has that sheen of detail that only comes from extensive research, and the characters are believably flawed, very human and immensely likable (or despicable, depending on which side of the bad guy/good guy divide they fall on). I’m not quite finished – in fact, I’m only a third of the way through, but reading David’s book has reminded me of how much fun I had writing my own novels, especially The Land of Ten Thousand Things.
LoTTT was my somewhat naive attempt to do something extraordinarily difficult: write a historical novel set in a remote culture and a remote time period. It’s the old cliche that if I had known how hard or time-consuming it would be before I started I probably wouldn’t have begun. It didn’t entirely come from nowhere, however – I lived in Asia for a while growing up, and I studied Chinese language and culture in college. So, I had the background to make something not entirely inauthentic, although I can’t remember the last time I researched something so intensely. When I was deep into the first and second drafts of the novel, I could have told you details about ancient China that… well, truthfully, they probably would have made your eyes glaze over. I, however, loved all of that.
This particular novel had an interesting life cycle, although at the time I probably would have used the word “tortuous.” It came within a whisker of being published, but didn’t quite get there. The last draft I have on my hard drive is dated September 11, 2004, though, and I’m thinking that after seven years, perhaps it’s time to take another look at LoTTT and see if something might be done with it. I know many more people in the industry than I did a decade ago, and perhaps the market has become more receptive to this sort of book. I think the biggest thing holding me up is that I would have to actually read the manuscript again. I’m halfway convinced that reading what I thought was good in my 20s is going to make me cringe today. Still, that’s probably just a chance to revise.
If I do decide to give it a polish and take it out again, I may go the traditional route, or perhaps just self-publish it for nook and Kindle and see what happens. After all, I certainly know artists who could put together a gorgeous cover for me… mainly, it just seems silly to have something that complete, that took around four years to create, doing nothing.
Maybe next time we’ll talk about the other book, or the screenplays, or the fully-written comics projects I’m sitting on in the hopes my profile will grow enough to get them made one way or the other. Still, I’m not going to look a gift horse in the mouth – I’m lucky to be in the position where I have hopes that they might actually see the light of day someday, after all.