Posted on August 30, 2011 by Flames
The Flames Rising Design Essay series continues with a little something from David Chandler (Wellington) telling us about his new dark fantasy novel Den of Thieves. Most Flames Rising readers will know David from his excellent zombie and vampire novels, several of which we’ve reviewed here at the site. In this essay David also shares a little insight into his publishing history and what genres authors are told about they can and can’t write.
How I Ended up Writing a Fantasy Novel and Changed my Name
That was back in the ‘80s, a wild and wooly time for genre fiction. I was not exclusively a science fiction reader back then—nobody was, or at least, I knew very few people who identified themselves as just “science fiction fans”. When I went to Waldenbooks with whatever money I could scrap together I looked at the wall of books and could spend hours trying to figure out what to buy. There was fantasy, science fiction, and horror, typically all on the same shelf—and I wanted it all.
I devoured Stephen King novels when I wasn’t buried under a pile of Isaac Asimov and Robert Heinlein, and of course there was the beautiful edition of the Lord of the Rings that had once belonged to my father, just waiting to be read yet again, if I could make time while working my way through Thieves’ World anthologies and Conan reprints. I couldn’t get enough of these books, and I would read anything I could get my hands on that was even vaguely genre related. I did not turn up my nose at elves and unicorns. I could muddle my way through hard science fiction novels that had actual math equations in them. And I loved being scared by a good horror novel.
When I started writing for myself it was mostly science fiction I tackled, but not always, not by a long shot. The first novel I actually managed to finish writing was a fantasy book and I was very proud of it. I wrote horror short stories for friends and watched their eyes bug out, and it was good.
When did we decide, as a culture, that you could only like one genre at a time?
In 2005 I published my first novel. It was called Monster Island and it had zombies in it, so everybody decided it was horror. It didn’t feel that way to me. It was set in the (very near) future and there was a strong emphasis on technology and science in the book, so I thought it was science fiction. But apparently I missed the memo. Zombies = horror.
It didn’t bother me much at the time. I liked horror just fine and was thrilled to be ushered into the rarefied world of published horror novelists. I went to the World Horror Convention in San Fransisco and met, for maybe the first time in my life, people who just… got me. Who understood where I was coming from, and why the old pulp adventure stories I loved were good, and why I would want to write about the undead. It was glorious, and the fact I could make a living doing it was a dream come true.
I was David Wellington, published author, and life was very, very good.
Until I announced I wanted to write a story about zombies who build a makeshift rocket and go to the moon so they could live in peace. And was met with stunned silence.
But that… that would be science fiction, I was told. You can’t do that!
Well, that’s the way it is today. We are constantly told by the media, by industry professionals, by our fellow writers that readers today can’t handle more than one genre at a time. Science fiction fans turn up their noses in disgust at the thought of elves and wizards—that’s just not scientifically accurate enough. Horror fans especially—or so I have been told—will never, ever pick up a book with a spaceship on the cover (for the purposes of brevity, let’s put aside the obvious exceptions—each of which just seems to prove the rule anyway). You’re not allowed to cross genres or somehow the spacetime continuum will collapse. Or you’ll stop selling books, which is even worse.
So I resigned myself to writing nothing but horror. My brain was fizzing with other ideas. I saw a solar system at the end of the planetary formation process, a system with ten thousand planets and the rough and tumble prospectors dodging protoplanet impacts there. I saw a world circling a black hole, where a Lovecraftian monster god ruled over acolytes mutated by constant x-ray bombardment. Most clearly of all I saw a thief in a medieval city, pulling off the greatest heist in history with nothing more complicated than a crossbow and a really solid plan.
But I put all those ideas on hold because I was David Wellington: horror writer—and that was that.
I had plenty of great ideas for horror books, too, and those I wrote and published and actually made some money, and that was more than enough to be satisfied with. But then something horrible happened.
Not “horrible”. No monsters jumped out of my bedroom closet, no serial killers started stalking me. I just got divorced. It was a lot worse than those genre horrors, frankly. It was a lousy time in my life and just a really sad ending to a relationship I had treasured. I had to move to Brooklyn and pick up the pieces and start life anew.
That was when I started writing fantasy. I did it as therapy, honestly. I let my inner thirteen year old out to play, and remind me why I loved what I did, and how books would always be my salvation. I had this idea, you see, that fantasy heist idea, and it had been percolating in my head for five years, five years while the characters got stronger, while the plot firmed up, while I imagined the whole thing as the book I could never write. And now, darn it, I was going to write it after all.
I did it in secret. I didn’t tell anybody what I was up to, not my agent, not my best friends. I was so terrified that my credentials as a horror writer would be questioned. But I wrote it. I started on page one and I didn’t stop until I got to THE END.
And then I did a terrible, dumb thing. I showed it to one friend. It’s really hard not to show off something you’ve put so much work into. I let my friend read it.
And he liked it. Like, a lot. He insisted I show it to my agent. I actually thought my agent was going to be angry that I’d wasted all that writing time. But my agent liked it, too.
Pretty soon we had a publisher who liked it. Den of Thieves, book one of the Ancient Blades trilogy, was on its way. There was just one hiccup. My fans.
My fans, who I owe everything to. My fans, my horror fans, who mean everything to me, the people who read my stories and email me to say they liked them, the people who give me all the encouragement and support a writer needs. My fans who I would not trade for all the world.
“They’re not going to like it,” I was told. “They don’t read fantasy.”
That’s just how it is. The way the world works. I was going to alienate all of my readers and doom my career by bringing out this book I was so proud of.
So I became David Chandler, fantasy writer. It’s my middle name, if you’re wondering. David Chandler doesn’t write horror, oh no. He doesn’t go in for all that blood and guts stuff. He’s a hardcore fantasy guy. He writes about dwarves and elves and magic swords. Don’t worry—you’re in good hands.
So here we are.
The book is out. It’s doing really well. People really like it. I’ve been holding my breath, waiting to see what my—I mean, David Wellington’s—horror fans would think. Whether they would get angry. Whether they would riot in the streets. I sent them an email telling them about the new book and promising I wouldn’t bother them again if they didn’t want to hear about it.
The response has been overwhelming. Overwhelmingly positive. Every single email I got back was full of excitement and enthusiasm. They didn’t care what I wrote—they just wanted more! They liked my books, they always had, and if I wanted to try an experiment they would come along for the ride.
Once again, my fans, my readers, have come through for me. The same people who made my dream possible in the first place have proven the conventional wisdom wrong, and given me hope that I can write all the books I want to, the books that fizz away in the back of my brain and maybe, just maybe, it won’t be the end of the world.
I can’t thank them enough.
So to all of them, and everyone reading this:
Hi. My name is Dave, and I write genre books. If you like action, and suspense, and fun stories regardless of what somebody tells you you’re supposed to like, we’re going to get along just fine.
David Chandler (Wellington) – 2011
About the author
David Chandler is the author of Den of Thieves, available now everywhere books are sold. David Wellington is the author of the upcoming 32 Fangs, a vampire novel which will be released in 2012. Find out more at their websites: ancientblades.com and davidwellington.net.
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